Part Four of Four Parts
The earth, muffled with snow, goes about its hidden preparation for spring. Silence spreads over the land. Our pace slows with the burden we are blessed to bear. The angel with his face of fire and his wings is now a dim memory. God has become a long, low hum, a slow pulsing throb. We, like the inside of a struck gong vibrating peace, wait.
The fox in the woods stops in its tracks and sits up listening - still. The hawk on the wing wheels in a broad circle, glides down a current, and settles on the post -still. The chickadee at the feeder lifts and tilts its head listening – still.
Then it comes. Wrenching pain pierces us like a sword in the belly. We collapse to our knees and crouch in the darkness. Impaled by the circumstances of our lives and God’s call to us we embrace the cross of Christ. Extended far beyond our feeble powers, such bearing is more than we can do. With each new contraction we lose our nerve and cower like Peter saying,”I don’t know nothin’ bout no man named Savior.
Now we may recall Jesus’ question, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” And we had boasted like idiots, “We are able!” We had no idea what would be asked. Between contractions we pray, “If it be your will, remove this cup from me. But not my will, but yours.”
To entrust ourselves to the will of God at the very moment when we feel most alone and in the most pain requires us to have come to the absolute end of our own will and resources. What makes such a thing possible? How could Mary persevere? How did Paul in prison and facing death continue to preach the gospel?
Perhaps it was their surrender, their sense that something larger than themselves had taken hold of them. An ax had been laid at their roots. A furious whirlwind had shaken and blasted them. Now all in them that was chaff was burning in an unquenchable fire. Finally, exhausted from resisting they say, “Yes, yes. You are in charge. You are God. I love you. I trust you. I don’t like or understand this, but I give myself to you however you want me. My will and desires die to yours.”
A birth is not something one does as much as submits to. Processes set in motion long ago now come to fuller expression. One’s being is given over to a life and purpose beyond itself. The best thing to do is simply hold still, breathe with the pain and wait between contractions.
The Greek word used in the Bible for wait is hypomenein. It means “to stay behind, to stand still, and to hold out.” Hypomenein includes in its nuances to cleave to God in simple, quiet confident waiting as well as to endure, stand fast, persevere; and it includes courageous active resistance to hostile attack.
Wait in the New Testament refers to the endurance that is given for the realization of the kingdom. It is the basic attitude of the Christian as we face the attacks of a hostile and unbelieving world and as we find ourselves in the midst of temptations. The power to persevere is drawn from faith and hope.
Our wills, knowledge, or technology have no power to bring about salvation, wrote Simone Weil:
The role of humanity is to wait . . . The attitude that brings about salvation is not like any form of activity. . . . It is the waiting or attentive and faithful immobility that lasts indefinitely and cannot be shaken. The slave, who waits near the door so as to open immediately the master knocks, is the best image of it. He must be ready to die of hunger and exhaustion rather than change his attitude…We just have to wait for the solution. . . . Seeking leads us astray. This is the case with every form of what is truly good. [We] should do nothing but wait for the good and keep evil away. (Waiting for God, 195-6)
Might you be entrusted with a task to match the largeness of your soul? Could you, like Mary, tell your cousin, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant”? Is such heroism only for martyrs in foreign lands, prophets defying oppressive governments, and saints whose lives trace truth in their own blood? Of course, not.
“What good is it to me if Mary is full of grace, if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to the Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?” asks German theologian, Meister Eckhart. (1260-1329)
If you are summoned by an angel, if you find your heart stretched big with some unnameable love with a mind of its own, eat your broccoli. Remember my friend at the beginning of this series, who hoped to live long enough to see her thirteen year old son parent his own teenager? (Waiting: Broccoli and Perserverance.) Take your vitamins. Stay focused on your goal. Wait. Trust. It will be worth it just to be around on the day of the Lord, however long it takes.
Waiting: The Threats (theprayinglife.wordpress.com)
Waiting: The Promise (theprayinglife.wordpress.com)
Waiting: Broccoli and Perseverance (theprayinglife.wordpress.com)
Christmas and the Recollected Soul (theprayinglife.wordpress.com)