16 December 2009

advent mercies

It is Advent now: a season of waiting. I imagine Mary, stroking her heavy pregnant belly, wondering exactly what and who it was she would be welcoming. I wonder if the days seemed longer and heavier and darker as the day drew ever nearer. I imagine that there were times it seemed the day would never come. I imagine that she felt the stretch and ache of it all.

As I peruse blogs these days, I find other writers heavy with this theme of waiting, of as-yet-unmet expectation, of hope in the long dark hours of winter. I am heavy with waiting, too. It seems the days stretch on into an endless succession of nothings sometimes. This is held in tension with the many blessings afforded me this year, the foremost of which is a love I did not expect ever to experience. Some days it seems ironic and others, I know that what I've received has taught me to expect and to hope.

Waiting is an impossible place to be sometimes: hopeful and buoying with effervescence one minute, I can feel deeply discouraged and all but suffocated in the next. I constantly find myself pinging back and forth like a pinball between I know it must happen and it will never, ever happen. Ever.

And yet we are repeatedly commanded in sacred Scripture to wait, to trust, and to hope. This seems unrealistic at best at masochistic at worst in light of the realities we face respectively: the baby that seems like he will never come, the ever-evasive perfect job that suits our passions and abilities, the light of revelation that will lift the fog from our mind or the shackles from a crippling depression. And it's not as if the men who penned these words did not have their share of adversity; they faced murderers at their heels, plotters in their courts, and crowds who spat upon them when the truth was spoken. It is not as if they didn't understand the weight of their words.

I was reading in the book of Sirach this morning, a text of Scripture that is new to me in my journey toward becoming Catholic. Predating the time of Christ by about 175-200 years, this book was often used toward the end of instructing those new to the faith: a type of catechesis, if you will. I found these words I read this morning so fitting -- familiar like a well worn pair of shoes, but also fresh in a way that had me gazing upon this truth as a novel and remarkable thing:

You who fear the Lord, wait for His mercy, turn not away lest you fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust Him and your reward will not be lost.

You who fear the Lord, hope for good things,
for lasting joy and mercy.
Study the generations long past and understand;
has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in His fear and been forsaken?

has anyone called upon Him and been rebuffed?

Compassionate and merciful is the Lord;
He forgives sins, he saves in time of trouble.
Sirach 2:7-11 (NAB)

While deeply encouraged by what I read, this encouragement came with the knowledge that I will continue to wait, that I will face discouragement, and that I will be tempted toward hopelessness. It can seem unrealistic and ridiculous at times, this command to wait and to hope. Experience and worldliness might teach us all to throw in the towel, to give up, to put our heads down and plod through life as best we can.

But here it is again: the command to hope, to look up, and to look back toward this great cloud of witnesses:

Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed? Has anyone persevered in His fear and been forsaken? has anyone called upon Him and been rebuffed?

No. No, they haven't. And neither will I.

It struck me this morning that I have a choice in the matter: I can wait slouchingly and with tremendous self-pity, wallowing in hopelessness, or I can look up and look back and say: I don't know what will happen, or when. But I know He will not disappoint or forsake me. He won't. It's not in His nature. And our lives here are not the end of the story.

And so we wait for Him, stretching and aching together, knowing that if we fall, we fall into mighty hands.

Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, and not the hands of men,
For equal to his majesty is the mercy that He shows.
Sirach 2:18


  1. I can't think of much to say that adds anything except to reveal how discouraged and depressed I feel this week. Meh. So I'll just say thank you for posting this, and I hope there's a time, soon, when I can do something other than just wish I could hope, because I believe you words my heart feels so heavy.

  2. This was so beautiful and so hope-filled. We are called to wait in hope and to believe the promises, even (and especially) when our eyes tell us otherwise. This is a constant reminder to me to trust -and rest in Him.

    I am indeed blessed by reading here!

  3. It's good to hear your voice writing here again. xoxo

  4. My goodness. This just might be your most elegant post to date. I have always enjoyed your writing style, but reading this actually caused my shoulders to drop down from my ears just a bit (and only a bit, 'cause I'm completely locked up and it's gonna take more than a Blog post to bring them down completely... I digress)

    BTW - Thanks for the visit and comments at my place. Did you know (no, you could not have possibly known) that the CSI family has moved out closer to you? From this point forward, we will be known as the Platonians. That was a clue.

    I'll keep an eye out for you at Starbucks. You'll recognize me as the slightly chunky guy with my shoulders around my ears and a six-year-old in tow.

    Until then, Happy Holidays!

  5. I've come back to this post in my mind several times over the last few days. It's been a hard week, but your words keep speaking. Thank you!

  6. Sarah-girl,
    I am so with you sister. One of the main reasons I wrote this is I have had such moments of sadness lately that are the kind that seem the type from which there is no escape. I wrote this as much for myself as for anyone else. I am so sorry to hear you're having such a difficult time right now. Hope is hard in such times, but I pray that you persist in it. Keep on truckin'!!

    No way!! We just went to a Christmas party on Plateau-land last night. Perhaps we will all have to arrange a chance meeting at Starbucks someday. I do love a good latte and even more, watching blogworld and realworld collide. I hope you all have a happy Christmas!!

  7. These are such great words! I'm not familiar with the book of Sirach, but those words are so true! God is the one in whom all our hope rests and he is the one who meets all our desires. I'm waiting and hoping now and though at times I struggle so much, God always reminds me to hope.

    I'm so glad to have found your blog! Thanks for sharing!!