Preacher: The Reverend Doyt Conn
I was reminded of the power of Advent the other day. It was Wednesday, in the morning, between 8:30 and noon, and I was waiting for the dishwasher repairman at home. At 9:30 I called dispatch to make sure they didn’t forget me. I was greeted by a lovely, and seemingly well trained, customer service representative. “They aren’t there yet?” she asked, as if surprised. “Oh, I am sure they’ll be there any time now and certainly by noon.”
And so I waited and waited. It wasn’t lost time. I had my computer and my telephone. No one was at home, and the sun was out filling the dining room where I had set up shop, so I could see the front door, and greet the repairman as soon as he arrived. The only real problem in waiting for the dishwasher repairman was that it wasn’t part of the story of my life. You see in my story the dishwasher works. The Conn family is not a wash-it-by-hand family. I know people like that. I’m a bit surprised we are not like that, given that my mother-in-law is a wash-it-by-hand person. She says it is relaxing and it gives her time to unpack her day.
The truth is there is wisdom in her actions. Her rhythm of dish-washing mimics one of St. Ignatuis’ spiritual disciplines. He taught a practice that goes like this. At the end of every day find a quiet place. Sit comfortably. Breathe in and breathe out a few times. Let your mind unwind a bit, and then set about reimagining your day. Pause at each interaction. Consider each telephone call, or skype conversation, or passing greeting. Think about the grocery store clerk, and the parent you passed in the hall at your child’s school, and the caretaker you passed in the hall. Consider the client meeting or the patient interaction or the conversation with your sister on the phone. You’ll be surprised at the number of touch points you had. There are great moments of joy for me in this exercise and there are also moments that make me wince. Did I do that? Did I say that? Wading back into my day gives me a chance to be different the next day.
Maybe this Ignatian exercise is one we might consider adopting this Advent?
For me I found another remarkable thing about this spiritual discipline, it reduces the amount of waiting I do, particularly in the middle of night.
Maybe some of you have experienced waking up and the clock saying 1:47am, and you lay there waiting, waiting to go back to sleep. And then your mind starts to spin, fixating on an event or an interaction. And you lay there waiting to go back to sleep, waiting, waiting, thinking, “Ugh! I am going to be exhausted tomorrow! Of all the days, tomorrow is not the day to be exhausted.” And you wait and wait and wait, daring not to look at the clock again.
Waiting for the dish-washer repairman and waiting to fall back asleep are not part of the story of our lives. And when they are, they are not the part we want to write about.
Impact, productivity and efficiency are more important. When I was in business these things were core to my identity.
I worked on a team that bought companies and consolidated them, cutting redundancies and creating economies of scale. Middle management was usually the first thing to go.
But I remember this one guy, Tony, who just never seemed to disappear. He was about 58, and he seemed to continuously slip through the holes in our attrition net. He danced around pressure tactics, always just making his sales quotas, and always doing what was asked of him without doing too much more. He’d come to work late and leave early. And in between he’d chat with the customers or wander around the factory floor talking to the guys making the parts.
But here is the mystery of Tony. As time went on, I’d find myself going to Tony more and more with questions about the industry and customers and the product and the people in the plant. And he’d help us and tell us his opinion and call folks he knew when he didn’t know the answer. And when he wasn’t helping us he’d go out to lunch or play Pac-man on his computer. I always thought Tony was just waiting around for retirement, and I always viewed him with a little bit of contempt, but now I sort of think he was waiting around to help us. Tony was less concerned about writing the story of his life and more concerned about writing himself into the stories of those relationships he found himself in.
I don’t think Tony was a saint or a genius, but I do think he saw value in waiting, and it certainly didn’t freak him out. He seemed content enough to minimize his own story in order to live into a story that was bigger than his own.
Maybe that sounds crazy? Or maybe it sounds liberating? Maybe it would be nice every once in a while not to be in charge, not to be the masters of our dominion, not the center of the world. Maybe it would be nice every once in a while to be part of a larger story that was beautiful and where we knew the ending and it was good.
Advent gives us an opportunity to live into a story that is bigger than our own. It allows us to wait patiently for our God – Jesus. Born into this world to be with us in a way we can understand; Because God wants to be known and God wants to be chosen. God loves us that much. And so we wait for the birth of our God.
We all have some familiarity with waiting for the birth of a child. There is nothing we can do to speed up the process. It is a structure reality of the kingdom of God. It just takes a child as long as it takes them to grow in the womb. And while waiting generally seems to be the piece of the story we are quickest to edit out; it rarely is for those who wait for a child.
Waiting, I think, makes an event all the sweeter. Waiting increases our sense of thanksgiving and gratitude. There was a day when waiting was more thoroughly woven into the rhythms of life. We waited for crops to come in. We waited for snow to melt and the salmon to run. We waited for fruits or vegetables to be in season. We waited to have enough money to buy something we couldn’t afford. We even waited for the appropriate night to watch our favorite TV show. Now we just Tevo it. Now we write the waiting out of the story of our lives and I sense we are diminished because of it.
Advent is a time to reconsider waiting. Advent is a structural part of the Christian rhythm of life that encourages us to wait. It calls us to consider the gift waiting can bring us.
I’ll give you a little example of what this gift looks like from my own life. I was picking up my son from after care the other day. I caught him the midst of some super fun game, and he asked me if he could just finish up. Five more minutes he implored. I said, “No, come on, let’s get you signed out.”
But then I thought, “Oh no, I am going to see this interaction later tonight when I review my day, and I’ll think, ‘really? Did I really need to rush a way? What for? What was so pressing?’” So I changed my mind and said, “OK, five more minutes.” And I went and sat on a bench by myself and waited… I didn’t take out my iPhone. I didn’t really watch the kids play. I just sat there and waited. Not only did I live to tell about it, but it was the sweetest five minutes of my day. As I reviewed my life that evening, as I sat doing my Ignatian exercises, I saw those five minutes as a great blessing upon my soul.
The wisdom of the church knows the power of this blessing on a soul and the way it heals the world, and so gives us Advent to weave waiting back into the story of our lives.