Waiting and Watching
by Fr. Jack McArdle
God waits for us to wait for him. "All good things come to us in God's own time" is a saying used by an older generation. Waiting is part of being poor. The poor are always waiting; waiting for a break, for a handout, for help of any kind. Beggars can't be choosers, so they have no choice but to wait. The bureaucracy of World Banks and Third World agencies will require more long and tedious meetings, more reports, and further scientific research, while the people of Darfur are dying of hunger, and are absolutely helpless to speed up the process. The refugee woman sits with her back to a wall with her hand held out. She has to wait. Somebody will stop and notice her, but she has to wait for that recognition. The Jewish people are still waiting for their Messiah.
When Simeon took that child in his arms in the Temple, he knew that his waiting was over. This is the day he had longed for; this is the day he probably thought was not going to come in his life-time. He was ready to die happy, because his waiting was over. All good things come to those who wait. It requires humility to have the patience to wait. The proud and the arrogant stride to the very top of the queue. They do not ask; they demand. God's gifts are their rights, and probably less than one in ten come back to say thanks. One of the ten lepers was a Samaritan. He had no religion, had never been to the Temple, and he had no expectations of a Messiah. Yet, of all the ten, he was the only one to come back to say thanks. The others probably had done their time at religious services earlier in life, and so God owed them one. The Pharisee wasn't very conscious of God's gifts to him. He was more aware of how God must be so pleased with him for being so perfect in every way. "Lord, it's so hard to be humble…".
"Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation" were Jesus' words to his apostles as they entered the garden of Gethsemane. I mustn't forget that Satan is also listening in when I pray. He can head me off at any point. I remember something that happened when I was a school chaplain some years ago. The Oratory was quite close to my office. I had some free time, so I decided to cross over to the Oratory to spend some quiet time there. As I came out of my office, I noticed something on the notice-board that caught my eye. I began to read it. There were other notices there that I had not read before. I was still reading when the hooter sounded for the end of class, and I had not made it to the Oratory. I had neither watched nor prayed!
I fell into that trap on many an occasion, when I had intended spending some quiet time with the Lord, and the phones began to ring, and I remembered dozens of things I had to do, and, with hindsight, I saw that none of them was urgent, and could be attended to some other time. I can get so busy with the urgent that I overlook the important. It is important to be watchful, to have a watchful disposition. This is part of being prayerful, part of the contemplative dimension of our lives.
If I really want to become prayerful, then I'll just have to become watchful. I wear the antennae on my head, and I don't sleep-walk into situations. "Lead us not into temptation". God does not lead us into temptation, but, what we ask for is that, like a Loving Father, he would watch over us, and prevent us walking into landmines, into situations where we would be too weak to resist the lures of the evil one. Satan is so much cleverer then we are, and, without the overshadowing power of God, we could be led in whatever direction Satan chooses.
The story of the Prodigal Son is one that should always move us. We cannot be untouched by the thought of the father watching and waiting(and hoping) day after day. He spent hours scanning the horizon every day, and it must have been difficult to maintain his hope. Finally, his hopes were fulfilled, as he recognised his son from quite a distance away. Yes, indeed, all good things come to those who wait. The sight of his son made every waiting moment worthwhile. There is a legend in the Russian Orthodox Church about the day of the General Judgement. The people are joyfully flocking in the gates of heaven. Jesus is standing outside the gate, with his hand shading his eye from the sun, as he stares off into the distance. Somebody asks him what is he doing, and he said "I'm waiting for Judas". It's never too late for God.
Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God in the following manner. "A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord, the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time; he starts to reap because the harvest has come."
The Kingdom of God is built up by tiny acts, and most of them are hidden. There is no way that the process can be speeded up. A lot of our food stuff is lacking in proper nourishment, because it is grown in artificial conditions, and the chemicals have more to do with the growth than the ground in which the seed was sown. Festina lente — make haste slowly.
My favourite food is that which is cooked in a slow cooker, where the meat and vegetables are left cooking all day long at a long temperature. One feels that all the goodness has been extracted and saved, and what is best in that food is put out on the plates. We live in an age when everything is becoming more instant, and the emphasis is on saving time and effort. I'm not complaining about this, because, in the normal evolution of life, everything is in a state of flux, a state of constant change. However, I do want to salvage the most precious things; those things that require time, waiting, and great patience, if the proper result is to be achieved.
This has to do with the spiritual, but it also has to do with serious dimensions of the physical as well. Relationships take time to grow maturely, because it takes a long time to really know another person. 'Whirlwind romances' are all very well, and I am always glad when they prove successful, but it can be a dangerous game. Having the ability to wait and to watch is a disposition, and is a chief characteristic in wisdom. Maturity is to be in charge, to be in control, so situations and circumstances do not make my decisions for me. If I have any dimension of God in my life, then I have to learn to wait, because it is in the waiting that my faith and my hope can grow, and become strong.
The long years of training required for many professions must be very off-putting for those who don't understand. Of course, I could learn all the theory in quarter that time, but the process involves much than just theories. The information leads to formation, and that cannot be short-circuited in any way. The young mother hopes and prays that her baby will complete every one of those days of the nine months in her womb, even though she longs to hold her baby in her arms. She watches every movement of the new-born baby, watching for signs of deafness, blindness, or some genetic defect that might show itself. She watches and waits over that baby for those precious early years, and it takes some time before she can relax, and be assured that all is well. She will give the baby all the time it needs to crawl, and to make gurgling sounds. These are fore-shadowings of what is to come, and she cannot hurry up the process. All will come in God's own time. Notice how many phrases we have about God and time.
A young lad was speaking to God, and he asked him a question. "What does a million years mean to you?" "Oh, that's only like a second". "And what does a million pounds mean to you?" "Oh, nothing more than a penny." The boy pushed his luck a little farther. "And would you give me a million pounds?" "Of course I would", said God. "When?" asked the boy. "In a second" came the reply. "A thousand years are but as yesterday; in a flash they are all gone". Our life-span must appear very very short in the eyes of God. I can imagine God wishing that we were not in such a great hurry to solve every problem today, and to make everything perfect yesterday. There's a time for everything under heaven. "Slow down, you're going too fast. We've got to make the morning last…"
I meet people and I would love to reach into the small of their backs, find that winder, and unwind it a few notches! Nerves don't break own; people do. Life can get so taut as I reach with one hand to change yesterday, and with the other to arrange tomorrow….and there's not much happening today. Life is too precious not to savour the experience, and stop to smell the flowers. Sometimes I wait on others, but most times I have to wait for others. Punctuality can be a virtue, but it can turn a person into a tyrant, because some people will probably arrive late for their own funerals. This can be very frustrating, but it certainly is a wonderful opportunity for dying to self. I myself have wasted hundreds of hours in my life by being punctual! I am not good at waiting for others, especially as it's usually the same people all the time.
When I chose 'Waiting and Watching' as a title for this chapter, I was thinking of this solely in relation to God. I know now that I have wandered all over the place, even though I know that there is nothing in our lives that cannot be connected to God in some way or other. As I write this, God is waiting. He is waiting on me to turn to him. He is waiting for my 'yes', and for every opportunity to bless. Above all, he is waiting for that great moment when, like his Prodigal Son, I appear on the horizon. He wants me to be on my guard, to watch, because, as Peter says, "our adversary the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking those he would devour". God wants us to be safe and secure in his world, and he wants us to know that he is constantly looking out for us. A young member of an Indian tribe was going through a rite of passage, to qualify as a warrior in the tribe.
One of the tests involved him being placed in the midst of a jungle on his own for a night. As darkness fell, the whole place became eerie and creepie. His heart pounded with every sound in the undergrowth. He heard animals prowling and howling, and there wasn't the slightest hope that he was going to get any sleep that night. There were times he felt like running, but he knew it would be impossible to run anywhere in the jungle, in the dark of night. He never knew that a night could be so long. Finally, the dawn began to filter through the trees. It took some time before he could make out the shapes of the trees and the bushes. As his eyes became used to the growing light, he spotted something behind a tree nearby. He moved forward to investigate, and was amazed to find his father standing there with a gun. He was there all night, guarding over his son. The son's instant reaction was "If I had known that my father was looking over me like that, I would have slept soundly all night." That's what you'll discover when you die…. Don't wait till then to experience it…….
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