Hold on…wait!

Moses spoke to them, “Wait, so that I may hear what the Lord will command concerning you.”
—Numbers 9:8

I have already been a bit of Ba-hum-bug this year. I pooh-poohed the Advent and Christmas decorations that went up  the day after Thanksgiving, or before. It still seems too early in the season for much fanfare. The annual hanging of the church greens reminded me that the time was indeed coming. And slowly the sound and colors of advent are starting to march their way even into the ba-hum-bug of this Rev. So I did it, decorated our Women Who Speak in Church with the purple background for Advent.

It’s not that I dislike the Advent season and don’t want to see the decor or hear the familiar tunes and words. It’s not that at all. I actually like all of that. It’s just that the season is just now coming upon us. Why rush it?

We live in an instantaneous world. We crave immediate gratification. We instant message. We check our Facebook accounts multiple time a day, sometimes even in the presence of others.

Part of me thinks this is too much. If the basis of civil living is relationship, and we can not be in the presence of others without looking at our devices to connect with other people at the expense of disengaging with those we are in the presence of, then we have failed to live the basic spiritual value of the I-Thou relationship through which the holy enters our realm (Martin Buber, I-Thou). It also makes me long for the “Be Here Now” philosophy of my parents’ generation.

Advent is a season of expectation, not gratification. It is a time of waiting. That is something that is hard to do, waiting takes practice. But remember we are waiting on a baby to arrive, that is something that should not be rushed. There are still somethings that take time in the world. Things like birth, the response from a loved one we hope to hear from but may not, illness, waiting for the job interview and the response, and death. The timing of these events are normally far out of the control of human beings.

Advent. Waiting. Hoping. It is something that seems countercultural and yet there is a spiritual lesson to be learned when it is done. I have found that waiting brings a fullness, a wisdom, a maturity not able to be reached in any other way. I have experienced this personally. But I have also seen it in the faces of the very aged persons nearing the end of life whom I serve. There are somethings we can only learn in waiting. Sometimes it is the long waiting that helps us to understand that there is a difference in our time and God’s time. Sometimes it is only through settling into the waiting that we can start to hear anew God’s leading in the moment, and slowly tune ourselves to it for the journey ahead, even if the journey is one of more waiting.

This year, I challenge us all, myself included, not to rush the season. Let us pray, Loving God who knows no time help us your children, stuck in time, ignore the ticking of the clock, the passing of days, the agony of years when that is what it seems. Help us to hear you in the here and now, help us to rest in your time though we cannot comprehend it. Help  us be your partners as You enter and move through the world.  And when all is said and done, Lord, welcome us at last to your eternity. 

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Waiting on the Lord

Backstory

Two years ago, when I wrote this, I found myself in a very fearful waiting place. I was without a job, without any prospects, and with the knowledge that my money would soon run out while in California. It was nearing a time when I would need to pack my bags and head back to the East Coast to begin again. This was the very last thing I had wanted to do that that time.

Waiting on the Lord

Waiting on the Lord? I suck at it.

Yes, for all the times I’ve sat with families and patients waiting for a test result, a surgical outcome, pain medicine, a trauma doctor to come and give some news—for all the times I’ve prayed for God to make me a peaceful presence, a non-anxious presence, when my life is on the line, more often than not, I crack.

And that’s okay.

My goal here is not to chastise myself over ‘cracking’ or my impatience or my misguided thinking that I can tackle the problems of the world (or at least my little world) alone.

I’m here to wrestle with this—it’s usually in this wrestling, this struggle (la lucha) that God most clearly speaks to me, and hopefully to anyone else who needs to hear what He has to say.

I’ve wanted to write this, to struggle with this waiting on the Lord since Monday night, as I drove home from my friend’s house.

The anxiety that I had fought so hard to keep at bay crept up and took me by surprise. Two weeks and I may be packed up and heading back East! The thought gripped me by the throat and squeezed, hard! Now, to those in the Northeast, I’m also not writing this to do a whole East vs. West comparison or to say one sucks and that the other is perfect. This is not what this is about.

So this thought is choking the life out of me and I’m way past panic mode when—finally!—I remember. My life, my future, my everything is in God’s hands. One would think that this new thought would tear me from the hands of despair and bring me some relief. Not quite so. Not yet, at least. I think my dialogue with the Almighty went something like, “Oh my God, no. Really?” “Really, I’ve got this. It’s all okay.” Except it wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t okay. I was and have been scared shitless, sleepless and at times grumpy at others. Sorry Mom, Dad, and [insert your name].

It was anything but okay.

Still, in my own infinite wisdom (laugh here, please), I pushed on. “I can do this. No worries. It’s all under control,” which of course it wasn’t, and I was slowly driving myself insane. Everything is in God’s infinitely capable hands.

‘But I’m scared,’ I heard myself whisper.

Of course, I’m scared. It’s scary. Uncertainty and a looming unknown are both scary potentials. Words to many songs came into my heart. Knowing that giving voice to these, and to the prayer that was in the song, would make me emotional, I found myself resistant at first and I also knew that surrendering my heart, my soul, my hopes, and my fears to God was the very best thing for me. I also remembered that “throughout the day we may need to surrender our will repeatedly. This can be especially true while struggling to let go of expectations” (Opening Our Hearts, Transforming Our Losses, 46). And what was I in need of doing but letting go of expectations and outcomes in regards to my job search and my drive to stay in California?

I sang, I prayed. I pranged. I did it honestly, openly, and vulnerably. And yes, there were tears. First came the worship song, “The Everlasting God”:

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord…

—But I don’t want to!

We will wait upon the Lord…

— But I don’t have time to!

And again, until all my fearful resistances were silenced. Until I pranged it right through:

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our strong deliverer
You are the everlasting God
the everlasting God
You do not faint
You won’t grow weary

The words came and suddenly my history of waiting, my history of being delivered, was before me. Call it a documentary of God’s salvific work in my life running through my head, my heart, and my soul. A strong witness that God—the one holding my life, my everything in his hands—is indeed the defender of the weak, the comforter of those in need and the one who will lift me, and all of us, on wings like eagles’.

I felt my heart change. I felt secure; surrounded by the love of God and as I was changed, so changed my song:

I have decided,
I have resolved,
to wait upon You Lord.

It is the only thing I can do. It is the only thing I can ever do, and when the waiting is difficult, when it feels impossible, I can ask God to help me. The song/prayer (sayer?) goes on:

My rock and redeemer,
shield and reward,
I’ll wait upon You Lord.

I will wait with the help of God, my rock. I cannot do it alone. I cannot do anything alone. It’s foolishness for me to think that I can, and yet I know I will think so again and again (and again). And again I will need to ask God for help; I’ll ask for God to dim the lights and roll the film, allowing that glorious documentary to play on a larger-than-life screen. Except this time a clip of me in my car, wrestling as I turned onto the southbound Interstate 15; tearful, fearful and resistant, will have been added, as will the song of my heart rising high to the heavens and the everlasting God’s graceful, merciful response.

As surely as the sun will rise
You’ll come to us.
Certain as the dawn appears,
You’ll come.
May it be so.

Epilogue

Oddly enough, I got home that night, checked some random job postings and stumbled across something I had never seen before. I applied the next day and am going to be arranging for an interview on Monday. Thanks to all those who have kept me in prayer! And now, two years later I remain in California, have that job that I found that night, remain relatively impatient and still struggling to wait on the Lord, but I have another memory of God’s hand in my life to turn to when the waiting begins to be too much.

God came then in this reflection, that very night even!

God is coming to us in this holy season.

God will continue to come to us in all our needs.

***

Donna Batchelor is a hospice chaplain and youth pastor in San Diego County, CA.

The Power of Silence

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

—Luke 1:67-79

He was not the first Zechariah to prophesy the mercy of God and deliverance from enemies. It had been some five hundred years since the writing of the prophetic book from which his name derived, and nine months since he had been able to speak. Perhaps in those months of enforced silence he had found himself listening not only to the Holy Spirit but to his people as well, and perhaps he heard their laments as they labored under the harsh hand of the occupier. We will never know; but those nine months of silence brought Zechariah to obedience—nine months of silence that broke like the sudden and forceful eruption of a geyser. In that moment he recognized that his own son would be a prophet to usher in the reign of the Prince of Peace. “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”

PRACTICE: You are invited this day to sit in silence for some time. To ponder. What is it that God puts before you to recognize in this season of your waiting? What is it that God is waiting for you to recognize? How can you proclaim that to the world in celebration the arrival of the Christ Child? —Kelli Parrish Lucas

What the Lectionary Doesn’t Say This Advent

Advent in Scotland. I think that Scotland is a country made for Advent: the outside temperatures—and I mean the outside low temperatures—the lack of sunshine or simply blue skies, the rain, the mist: everything is on hold, waiting for better times. Reflecting a bit on my Advent in Scotland, I set out to reading the readings that the Catholic Church has for today: a reading from the Book of Isaiah (Is 45:6c-8, 18, 21c-25), followed by Psalm 85:9a, 10, 11-12, 13-14 and the Gospel reading from Luke 7:18b-23. And I could not help it, but I started to laugh.

Why? Well, I noticed immediately the pick-and-choose mentality of the lectionary. Not only are the lectures picked so that they fit with each other, comment on each other or elaborate on each other (and I have to admit the choices are sometimes good), but they also cut up the text into pieces of verses and then present a new whole. In other words, the lectionary does what I always try to avoid: namely hopping from one verse to another, skipping others, and just dealing with the nice verses. After all, we want a smooth reading in the lectionary. But that is not how texts work. Imagine reading Harry Potter’s Deadly Hallows without having read the earlier volumes. One plunges in the story not knowing about horcruxes or not knowing that Dumbledore has died. The story just would not make sense.

So, curious as I am, I checked which verses were deleted. Which dark powers were at work and why? In Isaiah 45, the lectionary has skipped the verses about Cyrus, the Persian king who is portrayed as the rescuer, saviour of the Jews… of course, we don’t want to hear that in our Christian churches. We usually do not consider outsiders to be our saviours, right? Next, the questioning of God the creator who chose Cyrus is deleted. We do not question God, nor God’s choice, right? So why would we incorporate in our readings a Biblical text in which that is said. Last but not least, the reference to other nations that pray to a god that cannot save, that verse as well is deleted from the lectionary. And note that a god that cannot save does not deserve a capital G. In other words, with advent, when listening to the beautiful text of Isaiah, we cannot be reminded of good foreigners, of foreign saviours, of gods that cannot save, and certainly not of dissenting voices questioning the so-called one and only God, with capital G.

Similarly in the Psalm: the beautiful verses in which it is described how God restored the fortunes of Jacob/Israel and how God forgives Israel are not taken up, the somewhat strange verses in which the people again ask to be forgiven—these verses seem strange as they people seem to ask for something that they already received—they too are not read in the liturgies.

There is less cutting in the gospel text. Actually, there has been no cutting at all in this section. John’s question is not shortened and Jesus’ answer is fully produced. So, why is that that we cut, pick and choose, that we skip verses in our texts? Do we avoid looking at things we don’t like? Are we afraid of strangers and foreigners? Can we not deal with the idea that there is maybe a god that can’t save? Similarly, does the omission of the verses in the Psalm which show God’s (or the author’s) irritation with the idea of questioning God point to our not-willingness to see that there could be questioning of God and/or that God does not like it. And why did the lectionary drop the verses that contain the repeated request to be saved? Can we not understand that we liked to hear the same thing twice, or do people get frustrated with repetition?

I think that precisely the omitted verses should be part of the advent readings. Of course, the rest of the readings are nice and sweet and beautiful: God creator of everything, God, the safe-place to be, God proclaiming peace and salvation, God giving benefits, what more can we ask for. But then again, the other elements belong in here as well: we have to learn to deal with the unexpected, with the questioning, with the idea that a god cannot save—whether it is God or god—, with an irritated God, with a people that repeats its questions. All these elements have an essential part in our process of waiting, for in our waiting time, in our waiting rooms, in our not yet being there, we have to reflect on all the things that obstruct or seem to obstruct our going ahead.

***

by Kristin De Troyer

Death and Advent

Why should I fear in times of trouble,
when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me,
those who trust in their wealth
and boast of the abundance of their riches?
Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life,
there is no price one can give to God for it.
For the ransom of life is costly,
and can never suffice,
that one should live on for ever
and never see the grave.

When we look at the wise, they die;
fool and dolt perish together
and leave their wealth to others.
… Mortals cannot abide in their pomp;
they are like the animals that perish.

—Psalm 49: 5-11, 12

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
…I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

—Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11

I must admit I am composing this devotional afresh just before it is to be posted. I had to. The mixed metaphors of this holy season have caught up with me. Advent, a season of waiting, formerly a season of penance, is full upon us today as we enter the midpoint of this season. I have been struck in reading the devotionals written for WWSIC (particularly those that follow the daily lectionary) at how the advent season is so admixed with the passages of Jesus’ death and ultimate resurrection bringing new life into the world, even life after death.

Life and death. Are these not the crux of the Advent season? In the time of year when we witness the “death” of the sun and foliage; in this time of year when Earth herself seems to go into hibernation, it is hard to not be reminded of the realities of death. I think of this both figuratively and literally.

As Psalm 49 from today’s lectionary reminds us, none of us shall live forever. Rich or poor, we are but creations of God, and no matter how wise or wealthy we may work to become, “Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.” And yet, many of us find ourselves in a culture that wants us only to seek knowledge and wealth. Moreover, we find ourselves in a cultural season that celebrates overconsumption and greed. If we find ourselves not pondering physical death this season, we may be pondering spiritual or financial demise. And, just where in a season of joy, hope, love, and peace are we to sit with such woes? In Advent we await the birth of Christ and all that means. But this does not mean that all is “well with my soul” in the waiting. In the waiting we find the realness of life: the aches, pains, fears, and contractions that come before birth, particularly when it is unknown how the labor may go.

The season of Advent is dark. The love, hope, joy, and peace we yearn for may not yet have come. Still we wait. It is a wonder to me how and why we do this. Professionally and personally, I am keenly aware this season of how myriad emotions of the human experience—particularly loss—changes the waiting. And I’m aware how experiences of injustice and oppression make the waiting seem like it will simply go on and on, and that change to finally bring relief may never arrive.

And there it is in the lectionary this week: the presence of death in the season of Advent. It is a reminder that we do not live forever. But it also a reminder of God’s promised work in the world. In the passage of Isaiah for this week we are told that God intentionally sends one to help the “oppressed,” “broken-hearted,” “captives,” “prisoners,” and “all who mourn.” It is a promise that even when the world seems most troubled, God is still working out a way out of no way. It is a hopeful text, telling us that God is seeking to liberate those who have been exiled for years—even generations—in a foreign land; that God is coming even for those in a culture that leads them to believe that materialism and greed is all that exists. And God is not only coming for those who mourn—for loved ones or beloved values—but God is going to provide all who mourn “a garland instead of ashes.”

What stands out to me most from this week’s Isaiah text is the promise that God has already “clothed me with the garments of salvation / covered me with the robe of righteousness.” It is a comforting promise, even as I mourn a colleague, and as I am reminded of all those whom I/we have lost this year. It is comforting to me as I think of a friend fighting for life in the ICU even as I write. It is promising to me, this promise that God is not only coming but has already provided garments and robes for me, and all people, at our meeting, the way a mother prepares for her newborn. As the darkness of the season deepens it is comforting to know God is sending someone to meet me on the way, someone who will bring good news and will make me—and all of us—welcome even in the darkness. In the end, it is a mixed metaphor of both death and birth, of waning and waxing.

Waiting

almost top view of fancy liturgical candles on a gold mount.Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

All this waiting.

I’m tired of waiting.

And here I find myself in an entire season of waiting.

I’m tired of waiting for friends and family to find jobs.

I’m tired of waiting for the housing market to rebound.

I’m tired of waiting for the country to stop arguing about divisive issues with derogatory discourse.

I’m tired of waiting for my denomination to stop fighting to its death over who gets to be a minister and instead start ministering to the wounds of the world—including the ones we ministers have caused.

I’m tired of waiting to find time for ritual artistry, mission vision and sermon creation at the end of the week after the administration and budget balancing work is done.

And now, in this season of waiting and anticipation of the beautiful light of Christmas, it seems there are even more things both to do and to fail to do, more finances to worry about, more details to manage and more necessary distractions.

When did we change from the children who couldn’t wait for Christmas to arrive to the adults who can’t wait until Christmas is over?

How is it we find ourselves hurtling toward the Holy Child each year as one more task to get past?

Just wait until next Christmas, we promise ourselves, it won’t be this way next year!

But why wait?

Start now, with 12 days left until Christmas Eve.

Reclaim THIS Christmas right now.

There really is no need to just wait until next year.

Pause a moment now, yes, wait just a moment, and consider what most evokes the holy to you in this season. Spend another moment and let yourself be surrounded by that particular sense of the holy.

Now, in the 12 days that remain, consider one life-giving activity or tradition or memory from childhood or years past, and find another moment or two to remember it or even reclaim it.

One year, for me, this was to open a set of angel candle chimes from their 99-cent box, build them, light them and watch the angels spin from the rising heat of the candlelight. The table they were on was a mess, but I didn’t care. All I saw was the light and motion, and I heard the faint sound of a Christmas long past that became Christmas present.

What in your church, what in your home, what in your heart would give you a holy moment?

In each day, in those odd moments of reflection or even concern, pause to consider the holy.

Pause to surround yourself with a holy memory or create a holy moment.

Pause with the hope and prayer that come Christmas Eve, your season will already be filled with holy remembrances, holy moments and holy light.

Welcome the Holy Child with your heart already filled with a sense of Divine presence in your life.

We wait each year for the celebration of Divine Light in our lives, yet there really is no need to wait.

The Holy Light shines already.

Divine Creator, in this season of anticipation, guide us toward our hopes for the future fueled by our fondest memories of the past. We pause in prayer and in hope that in any moment time expands to fill with the Holy Light of Divine Love. In your most holy names we pray, Amen.

***

Rev. Karen Clark Ristine is a minister at Mission Hills United Methodist Church. After more than 20 years as a journalist, she entered seminary in 2006 and has been working in ministry ever since. After a lifelong tradition of sending out scores of Christmas cards each year, she was surprised to discover the irony that, as a minister, she no longer seemed to have time to continue that tradition. 

Waiting, Watching

When I was in elementary school I loved Fridays. Not only was it “tater tot day” in the cafeteria, but every Friday we played dodgeball during PE. Dodgeball was one of my favorite games; running, jumping, and yes, even the occasional opportunity to throw a ball at your classmate! (You know the one!) However, one of the best aspects of dodgeball was even when you were “tagged out” and having to wait on the sidelines, if your teammate caught an opponent’s ball your teammate could choose to have you come back into the game thus giving you a “do-over.” What I have learned in life as well as in dodgeball, is that the waiting can be hell. How absurd then that Advent, a whole season in the Christian tradition, is about waiting.

Like most seminarians I was coerced into studying biblical languages; it was just one of the many gifts of seminary. Through all the blood, sweat, and tears studying these languages caused me, I learned to love and value the original meaning of each intended word. For example, the words for waiting in both Greek and Hebrew are used at times as synonyms for watching. To make things worse, both languages suggest an attitude for which these two verbs should happen—both positive. Excuse me, but I am a child of the 80s. My generation has never known life without a microwave! We don’t wait well. According to the biblical languages, I am told not only to wait, but to be positive about it! It was one thing to wait on the sidelines as a kid, but as an adult? Come on! Let’s just be honest: waiting is about being in transition and transition can bring up a multitude of feelings, most of them unpleasant!

Over the last three months I have had a crash course in waiting, watching, and attitude adjustments. After almost a year of prompting by Spirit I did it; I quit my job, packed my stuff, and moved me and my dog to the great state of Washington in order to pursue more education. In my head I expected everything to be nicely wrapped and just waiting on me—after all, I did what Spirit prompted. I knew things would eventually work out, but did not expect to be waiting on a job, especially in this economic climate. As you can imagine, as the days passed with no calls of offers the fears grew and the questions began to surface. The questions soon led to deeper questions which I now see was part of the watching/preparing. The time I was able to dedicate to these questions has had a profound impact on the way I will go about my future work and practice. I almost missed it because I was too busy grumbling, complaining, and cursing at God about the waiting and so I forgot to participate in the watching. What I have learned (or maybe re-learned) is that the gift of waiting is the watching. Watching is finding God in the present even when the present is filled with uncertainty. Watching is our part; our participation which we do by asking the questions and going ahead by preparing ourselves as if that for which we are waiting is already here.

This year, my Advent is remembering that no matter how much I think I know what I need, God knows more. God is more creative than my wildest dreams, and when God insists that I wait, it is for a reason! My job offer did come and once again I was humbled and in awe not only because of the job itself, but because of the details that are so tailored to my situation—this job was created for me. If you find yourself like me, questioning and doubting while waiting, watch for the gift within the present and remember, God is always on time.