The Sacrament of Waiting

Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd                                                                      Dec 20, 2020

II Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:47-55

 

King David was finally resting after significant accomplishments. He had united the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel. He also captured the city of Jerusalem, which at that time lay outside of the boundaries of Judah and Israel. This is why Jerusalem became known as the City of David. He built himself a palace and brought peace and prosperity to the land. He did all of this with some humility (not a lot, but some), acknowledging God’s guidance, strength and wisdom. After all, he did start out as a poor shepherd boy.

Into this city, he brought the Ark of the Covenant with joyful dancing and celebration. The ark represented God’s very presence and it was placed in the city under its tent. As David gazed upon the ark from the comforts of his own cedar-hewn palace, he was struck with the impropriety of building himself a house of luxury before he had even thought about building God a house.

He immediately called Nathan, his religious counsel, and told him that he was going to build God a house as luxurious as his own. Nathan readily agreed, but later that night realized that they both had decided on a plan of action without taking time to pray about it, to meditate and seek God’s guidance. When Nathan took some time that night to do that, he began to sense an unease. Who were they to decide where God was to live? What were David’s motives? Was he more concerned about what people would think of the Ark of the Covenant remaining under a well-used tent? David, after all, had made some very poor choices in life and was not the most moral person. Was he to be the one to receive credit for building a sacred temple?

The next morning, Nathan gathered together every wee strand of courage he could muster and went to King David. Nathan took a deep breath, “As I began to pray about the building of God’s house, I received a contrary message:  who we are to decide where God should live? Who are we to build God a house? I was reminded me that God has always been on the move, a few steps ahead of us, and is in no hurry for a permanent dwelling place.” Nathan continued with good news that might make the first part more palatable, “I was also assured last night that God will build you a house—not your palace, but your dynasty. From your progeny will come a might nation that the world will admire.”

David actually received Nathan’s message quite well. He was having one of his more humbling days. He realized that God was not to be domesticated or put in a box, no matter how fancy that box. God cannot be controlled nor bent to the whims of anyone—even the most powerful political leader.

David realized that he had made grand plans without taking time to listen to that still, small voice that grants us wisdom, foresight and patience. His prayers had become pleas for God to do his will, instead of an offering of himself to do God’s will. Isn’t that the case with many of our prayers?

God has implanted within each of us a conscience that is stirred by the Holy Spirit. But we often forget to take the time to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit. Time is one of the gifts that we been given in this period of isolation. But it is a gift that can be easily squandered, especially with screens. Take this gift of time and use it wisely and thoughtfully. Advent is a season of preparation that requires significant listening. This year, we know more than ever that advent does not mean preparation for gift-opening and feasting. It means preparation for the Morning Star whose light will shine on a new world that is kinder and gentler.

When Mary was confronted with a strange prophecy about her unborn child, she left her fiancé Joseph for three months to spend time in retreat and prayer with Elizabeth and Zechariah. She needed time to prepare and listen intently to what God was trying to tell her. She needed time to process all of the intense emotions that were flooding forth.

I have found that when I am particularly passionate about something, it is more difficult to sit with it in silence and listen to God’s voice. But when I skip this part, I miss that second sober thought, that inner chamber of 2nd opinion that Mary craved and that King David skipped.

These past few weeks, I have felt all sorts of strong emotions rise up. I’ve learned that if I don’t take time to process them, they will spill out in frustration and impatience. But if I do take the time to listen to them, I may also hear the Spirit’s voice of wisdom and comfort. One night, I was feeling particularly angry at people who were downplaying the severity of the virus. I decided to sit with that anger and very soon, I found fear underlying it—fear for the safety of myself and of others; fear about catching the virus and passing it on; fear that I would not know about, or be able to respond to, pastoral care needs at Westworth. I seem to have lost much of of my intuition which picks up on signs during in-person interactions. As I sat with fear for a while, sadness appeared—a deep sadness and grief for the loss of hugs and dinners with friends, the loss of singing and worshipping together in person, the loss of being with my parents as their health deteriorates, the loss of an ease of living—and this list went on and on. Only after I began to peel back the layers of emotions that I was carrying, allowing myself to feel each one, did I begin to feel a little bit lighter. I found in the emotional release the Spirit offering healing and hope.

As I’ve been trying to meditate 20 minutes every morning and evening, I often grow impatient and I don’t always make it to the end of 20 minutes. It is a lot of time to spend doing nothing! But I do believe that if we don’t take good time to sit and wait before God, we will miss opportunities for guidance and healing. We will miss a gift of soothing and calming that inner fire of anger, fear and grief that seems to blaze pretty intensely these days.

In our instantaneous society, we’ve lost the appreciation for what Macrina Wiedekehr calls the sacrament of waiting. But this year, we have no choice but to wait. Could we see this time of waiting as an opportunity to observe and listen, to prepare and let go? A sacrament of waiting can strengthen us for the scurry of new life that is only months away. It is a lesson taught by the trees. Listen to Macrina’s poem, “The Sacrament of Letting Go.”

 

The Sacrament of Letting Go

Slowly – she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.

First she surrendered her green,

then the orange, yellow, and red.

finally she let go of her own brown.

Shedding her last leaf

she stood empty and silent, stripped bare.

 

Leaning against the winter sky,

she began her vigil of trust.

Shedding her last leaf,

she watched it journey to the ground.

She stood in silence

wearing the colors of emptiness,

her branches wondering,

How do you give shade with so much gone?

And then,

the sacrament of waiting began.

 

The sunrise and the sunset watched with tenderness.

Clothing her with silhouettes

that kept her hope alive.

They helped her to understand that

her vulnerability,

her dependence and need,

her emptiness, her readiness to receive,

were giving her a new kind of Beauty.

Every morning and every evening they stood in silence,

and celebrated together

the sacrament of waiting.