“Wait for the Lord. Be strong, take heart.” (Songs of Taizé)The Gospel story shows us how this waiting was not accompanied by anxiety or fear (even if she did appear somewhat confused). Instead we see her filled with gratitude for God, and eager to share her joy with others near and far.
It is in Mary’s confident waiting that I find so much power and inspiration. As a culture we have a very difficult time to wait for things. Sometimes I wonder if we even secretly loathe the idea. Do we see having to stand in line as times of dread and annoyance? Or do we get annoyed if our web browser takes ten seconds to load rather than five? Our technology, the thing that was going to give us more “time” for leisure and others, in fact creates more space which we continually fill up with more tasks and activities. Life gets faster and faster, but does that necessarily make it better?
Perhaps we want our lives to slow down. But then we wonder how to do it. We can feel caught up in the whirlwind that is our culture with no way to get out. So we just “give in” to the craziness of it and cope the best we can. Maybe we even try to rationalize it by saying (as good Anabaptists) that there is so much work to be done for the Kingdom, and therefore we must press on. Besides, Jesus looked like a pretty busy guy from what the Gospels tell us. Who has time to sit and around and wait when there were all those people looking for healing?
I must be honest and say that sometimes I use this argument. But I know that it is a sham – Jesus not only spent time just with his disciples sharing life (e.g. the Transfiguration), but Mark’s Gospel even tells us that he tried several times to go off “to a deserted place” to pray (1:35; 6:46). Waiting for God in prayer and meeting the needs of the poor and sick were not opposite poles for Jesus, but seemed to be integrated dimensions of his life and ministry. Do we have the courage to try to do the same?
One of the places where I was forced to work at that integration was during my time in L’Arche. In L’Arche, life is lived slowly and deliberately. In this way those with disabilities can not only participate in community life but also lead others in what it means to live together. And this requires a great deal of waiting. One of the people who taught me this the best was a man named Michael, someone who I lived in community with in L’Arche Cape Breton.
I did not know Michael well, but we were on some community committees together and so would occasionally have the opportunity to see each other more formally. This would sometimes require me to pick Michael up at this house. I will never forget the times – particularly on cold winter days! – when I would wait for Michael to walk from his house to the car.
You see when Michael walked, he walked slowly. (Unless there was a line for rum and Cokes in sight!) How many times I wanted to (and probably did) tell him to hurry up! (Or want to physically and literally pick him up myself!) But instead I (usually) waited for him to get there on his own time and in his own way. This always felt like the way I could truly honor Michael simply for who he was rather than what I wanted him to be. Yet I believe that he also taught me, and I would guess many others, the practice of learning how to wait for another in openness of heart.
This even included the journey of Michael’s death. The community had walked with him for about a year while his health deteriorated, always trying to wait and be present with Michael. And in the last few days as we sat with his family by his bedside, he taught us to wait for him as he passed over into the arms of God. For many of us this felt like a time of great sadness, yet also a time of profound gratitude for the gift of Michael’s life and all that he taught us.
In this way Michael exemplified what L’Arche founder Jean Vanier meant when he writes in his book Community and Growth that being part of a community requires being a “friend of time” (124-5). Without this kind of patience community becomes frustrating or even intolerable because it seems that “nothing” happens. Yet only by learning how to wait for another can we learn how to wait for God, and realize that the salvation of the world is God’s job and not ours.
Our task is to be faithful to the relationships which will sustain and transform us. In this way time no longer needs to be our enemy – constantly living to “beat the clock” or “turn back the clock” – but can be our friend who leads us to growth and wholeness.
This is what the story of the Annunciation and the whole season of Advent can lead us toward. And I will now always think also of Michael in this time of waiting for the birth of Jesus. He indeed was one of those who helped me to become a “friend of time” and thus helped me prepare for the one who comes in the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:10) to usher in the Kingdom of peace, joy, and luxurious hospitality.
Jason Greig was a Student Associate with Anabaptist Disabilities Network when he wrote this article in 2011.