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Waiting on God

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By on April 1, 2021

It’s been over one year and I’m still waiting.

Waiting for life beyond colour coded stages. Waiting for a vaccine. Waiting in lineups for groceries. Waiting in self-isolation. Waiting to have family and friends over for dinner. Waiting to greet people with handshakes instead of elbows. Waiting to meet in a room rather than on Zoom. 

I’m still waiting.

“Waiting on the World to Change”, as John Mayer put it, is a tiring pastime. When I feel exhausted and more than a bit powerless to effect the change I’m hoping for it can be very demoralizing. You might know how it feels. Yet ‘waiting’ need not only describe a passive stance toward something; ‘waiting’ can also be a very creative and active way of inhabiting the world around us.

I recall a sermon illustration from many years ago about the art of waiting a table. Be it in a neighbour’s home, in a local hole-in-the-wall, or in the most glamourous restaurants in town, the art of waiting a table is by no means a passive activity!

To my eye, the most gracious, humane, and skillful waiters are characterized by their scrupulous attentiveness to both the individual needs and social dynamics unfolding before them at the tables they ‘wait on’. Waiting a table requires discernment to choose the right moment for initiative or for patience; knowing when it is best to ask a clarifying question or to simply trust your gut. An excellent waiter can anticipate needs before they become crises and artfully fulfills those needs with a pacing that neither chokes nor rushes the rhythm of a meal but, rather, gives ‘space’ for it to unfold naturally. 

What I’m trying to say is that the waiter’s waiting is neither ambivalent nor controlling, and it is certainly not passive or disengaged. The waiter’s waiting is attentiveness embodied. Through attentiveness, the waiter becomes a creative participant in ‘the meal’, actively discerning his or her role within larger drama of its unfolding.

Perhaps this is the kind of ‘waiting’ we need to keep in mind as we ‘wait out’ the weeks and months of pandemic life still ahead of us. 

To whom, or to what, or where might God be inviting us to wait on him? 

How might you attend to God in the individual needs and social dynamics unfolding in our parish communities? 

How might you discern the right moments for further enquiry or act intuitively? 

How might you anticipate needs before they become crises yet artfully fulfill them with self control and at a pace that upholds the dignity of everyone involved?

Waiting on God is no pastime. It is an act of faith and it can be done in every circumstance of life. In fact, our scriptures bear witness to the experience of waiting on God time and time again. Angels, patriarchs, prophets, the psalmists, Jesus, the apostles and disciples all speak about waiting on God. Very few of these aforementioned ‘waiters’ are ambivalent about their circumstances. Rather they respond out of their attentiveness to the personal needs and social dynamics surrounding them at the various ‘tables’ they are called to wait on in life:

• The Psalmists and Job are attentive to the gap between the promises of God and the reality of their circumstances and so cry out in complaint for justice: “Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame!” (Ps 25.3) shouts the psalmist, and Job asks in exasperation “What is my strength, that I should wait?” (Job 6.11)

• Isaiah is attentive to the despair of exiled Israel and so draws everyone’s attention to the transcendent nearness of God to remind everyone that they are not forgotten: “But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” (Is 40.31)

• The angels attended to the trials Jesus endured in the wilderness of Judea, fulfilling their vocation as messengers of God’s unconditional favour and love: “[Jesus] was in the wilderness forty days…and the angels waited on him” (Mk 1.13)

• Paul was attentive to the gap between wealthy and fixed-incomed Christians gathering around the Lord’s Table in Corinth and reprimands the privileged to stop and think twice before they neglect to care for their own sisters and brothers: “So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Cor 11.33)

• The Resurrected Jesus is attentive to the future that God is giving to his witnesses at Pentecost and urges his disciples to not flee Jerusalem but wait: “[Jesus] ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1.4)

These waiters on God are far from ambivalent about the circumstances they are living through but instead engage in the questions their waiting provokes.

How will I ‘wait on God’ in the continuing drama of pandemic life?

Will I be attentive to the gaps between promise and reality? To the despair of exiled and isolated people? To the personal trials of others and to the numerous inequalities my privilege blinds me to? Will I be attentive to the future God is holding out for us in Spirit of the Risen Christ?

How will I respond? How will you?

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