Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Spirituality of Advent: What are you waiting for?

Throughout scripture we can discern a theology of waiting. In the Old Testament God waits on his people to return to him. In every age He endures our unfaithfulness. Yet our falleness makes waiting on God unbearable at times. Frequent prayer, mass, and adoration easily become inconveniences to daily living. And, though very often we convince ourselves otherwise, what we are communicating through our actions to our God is that He is not worth our time. We'd rather spend our time otherwise. After all we are important people and we have many important things to accomplish that takes precedence over spending time with God. And when we do spend time with God, sometimes its motivated by selfish reasons. How often do we expect God to answer us immediately when we do call out for him? How quickly do we expect him to solve our problems? How frustrated do we become when he seems silent to our sufferings? "Why do we complain about God, Who has more reason to complain about all of us?" (Salvian). 

Advent is indicative of the spirituality of the Old Testament. The entire Old Testament is an anticipation and foreshadowing of Christ. We are called to reflect on the experience of waiting on God's faithfulness to redeem our falleness. We must always be prepared for the coming of God. Truly Christ has already come (incarnation), and as he continues to come (Eucharist) he will come again (Final Judgment). As our spiritual ancestors waited for God to fulfill the Old Testament covenental promises, we are called to spiritually reflect on their experience that we may be able to recognize, receive, and respond to God's grace when it is manifested. 

Sadly, sometimes we do not really want a God of infinite wisdom, but a divine vending machine whose buttons we can manipulate with our petitions to satisfy our demands. True patience, and thus true hope flows from love. When we love and trust God we realize that His will shall prevail, and that this will be a glorious thing that we should welcome wholeheartedly. We pray, "Lord, not as I will, but as you will." We become much more concerned as to whether our will is conforming to God's. We say, "Holy Spirit, teach me how to pray and guide the desires of my heart." In this way we avoid a relationship of manipulation. By waiting on God we should learn to treat his responses to our prayers (even the silences) as a gift and not with a disposition of entitlement. 

Look towards the children who immediately receive everything they want whenever they want from others. They become very selfish and it becomes very difficult for them to receive anything with a spirit of gratitude. Appeasement is a bad parenting practice for it doesn't teach responsibility. Quite literally such spoiled individuals lack the ability to respond properly to gifts which screws up their ability to love. They are never able to properly receive a gift of love and thus they cannot properly give a gift of love. Bottom line is that God is wiser than us and we should conform to his will rather than trying to get him to conform to ours. 

At pivotal points throughout scripture and all of history, God’s people are met with silence. A prominent example of this is when Israel, after many centuries of being displaced during the Diaspora and subjected to a series of different rulers yearn for God’s answer to their plea for restoration and the fulfillment of his promises. “Israel is living once more in the darkness of divine absence; God is silent, seemingly forgetful of the promises of Abraham and David, the old lament is heard once more: We no longer have any prophets, God seems to have abandoned his people” (Benedict XVI). During this time God’s people were experiencing the spirituality of advent where their waiting constitutes a prayer of great longing and anticipation. In the silence they wait for God.    

We must learn how to put ourselves in God’s time frame rather than expecting him to work on our own. Very often we are not ready for what God wants to accomplish for us and in us.  We must wait and prepare our hearts. To use an analogy of St. Augustine that I've heard via Fr. Robert Barron (the video is below), sometimes God delays the answering of prayer in order that the heart of the person may expand and receive what God wants to give. We ask and God makes us promises but often the heart isn’t big enough to receive, but as we faithfully wait the heart grows larger and more receptive so that when God is ready, we might also be ready. 

The silence of God in the Old Testament foreshadows his plan of salvation when he enters into the silence of the human condition through the Incarnation.The peaceful silence of the nativity contrasts greatly with the violent silence of Calvary. This silence of Christ culminates on the cross when he silently allows himself to be slaughtered and enters into the silence of the grave, into the silence of death so that he may destroy silence through the Resurrection. May all our spiritual advents be a preparation inviting Christ to enter into the silence of our own lives that we may receive what God wants to give us. 

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