Holy Impatience

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

In 1963, while Martin Luther King Jr. was in the Birmingham, Alabama jail, he received criticism from white clergy for being “unwisely and untimely.” His response, written from his cell, may be one of the most powerful pieces on the urgency of justice and the tension of privilege.

On the subject of waiting he writes, “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied’ …. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

Advent is the season for waiting, which sharpens our attention to how we wait and what we are waiting for. It is easy to say that in general I am waiting for shalom, for the birth of Christ’s peace into the world. It is harder to get specific, especially when the particular prompts painful transformation within me and the systems I rely on.

From a place of privilege, I confess that I sometimes manipulate the waiting into procrastination. The white clergy in the 1960s were uncomfortable with King’s civil disobedience. They knew what was coming was nothing less than radical reform and the cost was high. It called for confrontation of not only a racist society, but also the lingering racism in their own hearts. “Just wait- I’m not ready,” they said, not maliciously as much as fearfully.

In the glitter and glow of this almost-Christmas time, I can forget the high cost of the birth of Christ that is almost upon us. In the waiting of Advent, we are not sitting passive or idle. We are allowing the Spirit to work within us. We are noticing the signs of our deepest hope coming alive along the way. We are cultivating the ground of soul for the God-seed that will die and become bread at the tables of the hungry. We are hearing with greater receptivity the impatient cries of the most vulnerable and oppressed with whom the Christ we wait for spent his life. When Advent comes to an end, when the waiting is over, will we have the courage to accept the new life placed in our hands for the healing of the world?

We must honestly discern within ourselves,
For what am I waiting expectant? (Poised)
For what do I procrastinate the arrival? (Resistant)

We learn slowly that this Advent waiting is not a linear process that happens once a year. The Christian seasons reveal to us the rhythms and patterns of life found consistently in discipleship. We know Christ’s peace is already here, accessible and urgent. We know it is coming, always being revealed. We hold this paradox in our hearts as we face the enormity of injustice before us. The waiting is for the forming of our lives into the Christ who gives all for the sake of others. We are to discern carefully, in every season, when action is required and when patience is action. This requires maturity in the spiritual life, honesty about our motivations, and the desire to be deeply rooted in God’s Spirit as the source of all movement, as was the Christ we await.

“Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively,” writes Dr. King, “… We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

How are we called to use time constructively and creatively this Advent season for the particulars of Christ’s peace to change our lives and world?

This Advent, may we grow legitimately and unavoidably impatient for justice.

Spiritual Practice: Repeat the two questions above in your own heart to discover where you wait expectant and where you procrastinate the prompting of the transforming Spirit. Pray for the courage to be a co-worker with God, attentive to each moment where the time is ripe to do what is right.

If you want to read the whole Letter from Birmingham Jail, you can find the text here: http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

Finding Time To Wait

by Shandra Newcom

God of the next, the waiting, the promise:

We humbly come to you and we bring all our stuff; all our things and fears, all our belongings and questions, all our purchases and uncertainties – that which is tangible and that which is intangible, and we bring it in hope.

We hope that we can live patiently in this Advent time.

We hope that we can be set free from that which holds us.

We hope that we can remember that this is a community, yours, that must make the journey together.

We confess that too often we insist on making it alone.

Remind us of our interdependence.

Grant us patience to live in encounter and to trust in your slow work.

We hope that we can take time to hear stories.

We hope that we can stop and learn and listen.

We hope that we can sit quietly long enough to know that you are here.

And that you are being born again in this season.

May the cycle of Advent be a spiral that leads us to the light of the world.

And may we wait, wait for you, Divine Love.


Spiritual Practice: Finding Time To Wait

Find a quiet place. Sit comfortably and read the three quotes, taking time in between each one to listen prayerfully to God. After you read a quotation, open your heart and mind and focus on your breathing, listen to the One who invites you into patience. Just sit and “be” with God who wants the best for you. After the final quote is read, offer a silent prayer of thanksgiving for the patience you are learning and the hope you are receiving. Take a deep, slow breath and know that the Divine Love that guides you into patience, journeys with you into Advent.

Patience is the virtue that shows us that the time of the soul and the time of the spirit are different than everyday time. Patience is required to be in healthy connection with soul and spirit. Patience concerns a particular form or way of waiting; it is one filled with expectation.
— Robert Sardello, The Power of Soul

Patience is something that is chosen; it is an active and intentional waiting which grows from an attitude of trust towards the essential goodness of life. It is a craft which must be learned through practice. It seems to me that every time I learn to extend my patience a little further, some new event will come along which stretches me just that bit more than I am prepared to go. I suspect that is the only way to develop patience — similar to athletes who incrementally increase their performances.
— Mike Riddell, Sacred Journey

Waiting is the practice of patience. I develop my ability to wait and listen, going deep into stillness. It is seeking without seeking. Deep slow breaths help me practice waiting in the present moment.
—  Barbara Ann Kipfer

Week Two: Advent Waiting

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

My first encounters with the Internet were accompanied by the long, screeching, wavering tone of dial-up. In those days, waiting for a webpage to load was not as inconvenient as it was miracle. To be so connected by the wonder of technology was worth the wait. Today, I feel impatience grow in me when I watch the spiraling icon on my desktop. This mode of communication is now commonplace, and I want it instantaneously.

The immediate has become a driving value in many cultures. If I want food faster, I can put it in the microwave. If I want that new iPhone but don’t have the money, I can put it on a credit card. The goal is maximum efficiency for a minimal amount of inconvenience in our lives. The underlying message we are receiving is: If you can’t have it now, it might not be worth having. (I wonder how this relates to the growing resistance in these same cultures to the life of faith.)

I would by lying if I said that I don’t indulge in immediate gratification. And it’s not all doom and gloom. Some expediency literally has life saving potential. For these advancements, I am grateful. In other ways, this value can be dehumanizing. As a society we tend to cast aside those who can’t keep up. Our incessant need for urgent convenience often comes at a cost to the planet, and the people in the systems producing this endless want.

How does this immediacy-value impact our state of heart as persons of faith? We are invited during this waiting season to slow down enough to examine every part of our life in God. When I recall times of impatient waiting, I notice that my first response is usually to search for distraction. If I am waiting in line, I will take out my phone and scan through emails or social media. I busy myself with other things to make the time go faster, to avoid the reality that I’m in.

What am I missing while keeping myself occupied with other things? Am I missing the opportunity to be present with the other people around me? Am I closing off the invitation of the Spirit to enter into life-giving conversation with a stranger? Am I ignoring ordinary life brimming over with holy significance amid the waiting time? Am I missing a chance to catch my breath and clear my mind instead of continuing to fill it? Is there some great insight or question emerging from my depths never given time enough in silence to surface? Is my evasion of what is before me revealing a deeper evasion of what is within me?

Advent is a waiting season. It reminds us that in the waiting is the forming of the new life we are waiting for. It calls for our full attention, and births anticipation within us. The anticipation is holy, even as it may produce discomfort or impatience. Don’t busy yourself with other things to distract from the restless hope arising within. Stay in it. Notice what it forms within you. It’s worth the wait.

Spiritual Practice: What is the state of your heart in waiting times? What would it look like in your life to be more attentive in the waiting? This week, create intentional space to be prayerfully attentive.