The seasons of the church year are meant to teach us something about the spiritual life we need to learn.  Beyond mere information about the spiritual life, they offer us the opportunity to practice some of the key disciplines of the Christian life and to do it together as a community of faith.

The Advent season, which marks the beginning of the church year, is celebrated during the four Sundays preceding Christmas Day and resounds with the cries of ancient prophets and with John the Baptist’s proclamation that the Lord is near. Advent, which literally means “arrival,” teaches us to wait for the coming of Christ, not just in Biblical times, but now—in the places where we long for his presence and need his intervention. Advent ushers us into a special kind of waiting that is alert and watchful, patient and yet full of anticipation.

One of the characteristics of a transforming church or community is that we are committed to walking together through the seasons of the church year, finding ways to open ourselves to the transformative possibilities contained within each one. We will publish eReflections on the Tuesday of each week of Advent so that we can walk through this season of transformation together. We will be following the Revised Common Lectionary (Year C), reflecting on the Lectionary Scriptures leading up to each Sunday of Advent. Every eReflections will include the Scriptures for that week, a substantive meditation and a prayer of response.  Look for your first Advent eReflections on Tuesday November 27th.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come

By Ruth Haley Barton

“In silence our souls wait, for you, and you alone, Oh God. From you alone comes our salvation.”
Psalm 62:1

Most of us are not very good at waiting in everyday life or in our spiritual lives.  We want what we want and we want it yesterday.  We want it on our own terms, just like we envisioned it.  When we have to wait in line like everyone else, we are humbled. When there is something we need, having to wait for it puts us in a position where we are not in control.  The doctor will see us when s/he is ready.  The cashier will serve us when it is our turn.  If we refuse to wait and abort the process prematurely, we are left empty-handed.

Richard Rohr calls seasons of waiting “liminal space.” This comes from the Latin word limina which means threshold. Liminal space is “a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them.  It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way.  It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”[i]

During Advent we allow ourselves to become aware of the liminal spaces in our own lives, determining to keep watch for Christ there. We allow ourselves to be in touch with those places in our lives where our own human striving has not accomplished what is most needed and where our longings for more evidence of Christ’s presence runs deep.  As spiritual leaders, we are called during this season to help others learn to wait as well.  This calling begs an important question: How experienced are we in the discipline of waiting?  Do we possess the kind of inner authority from our own experience of waiting that inspires courage and confidence in others when God’s call to the community is to wait on him together?

A Leader in Waiting

There is a scene from the movie Braveheart that is very powerful in its depiction of the kind of inner authority it takes to wait and to lead others in waiting.  In one scene from this true story William Wallace, a bold Scotsman, leads his ragtag band of Scottish soldiers into their first battle for freedom from Great Britain.  They have no weapons, no chariots, no horses, no uniforms, none of the accoutrements of war that the opposing army has.  What they do have is a courageous and innovative leader whom they trust and that leader (Wallace) has led them to build homemade spears that they need to throw at just the right time in order for them to hit their mark.

The tricky part is that they have to wait for Wallace’s command to release their spears because timing is everything.  If they throw their crude javelins too soon, they will fall in front of the opposing army. If they wait too long, the spears will sail over their opponents’ heads.

The opposing army comes thundering toward them.  In the faces of these untrained Scottish soldiers one sees a combination of alertness, fear, readiness, courage and will.  At the most dramatic moment Wallace is shouting “Hold! Hold! Hold” and as a spectator you are wondering, will they have enough discipline and restraint to wait for exactly the right moment to launch their spears?  Will they trust their leader enough to wait even though their very lives are in danger and everything in them screams to do something?

And they do hold!  They wait until Wallace gives the word, and then they launch their spears.  These homemade weapons find their mark and the opposing army—with all of its’ fancy accoutrements—turns tail and runs.

Courageous Leadership

What kind of leader is able to call people to wait in the face of real threat, when all their survival instincts are raging?  What inner strength does a leader need to be able to access in order to stay calm within themselves, to quiet the primal instincts of others, and to create space for listening to God in the midst of such fierce human reactivity?  Only a leader who has learned how to wait for God in the darkest moments of his/her own distress and confusion can call others to wait in the midst of theirs’. Only a leader who has experienced God’s deliverance in their own lives has enough inner authority to ask others to do the same.

In a world where leadership is often defined as the person who is out front “doing something” or “making something happen,” Advent invites us into a great reversal.  During this season we are invited to be leaders in waiting because we ourselves have learned how to do it.   We are invited to be still and wait for God’s deliverance, God’s wisdom, God’s saving grace in our lives and communities.  Sometimes this is the most courageous leadership of all!  And so we pray…

In the awesome name of God,
in the victorious name of Jesus,
in the mysterious name of the Spirit,
we acknowledge our God
and we wait;
we are still
we are silent
and we wait.[ii]

[i] Richard Rohr, as quoted in a sermon entitled “Living in Liminal Space,” April 7, 2002.

[ii]Revised Common Lectionary Prayers, 2002.

©Ruth Haley Barton, 2012. Adapted from Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (InterVarsity Press).

Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founder of the Transforming Center. A teacher, spiritual director and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life, including Pursuing God’s Will Together, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, and Invitation to Solitude and Silence.

Where are you waiting for Christ this season?

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