Open-ended waiting: An Advent message from Bishop Gates

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

It is not the usual sort of waiting.  The Advent discipline is unlike our typical experiences of waiting.  We wait in line at the grocery store and in congested traffic.  We wait for our computer program to download.  We wait for our workday to end.  Mostly we consider waiting to be a waste of time–lost moments when we could be doing something else.  We are apt to be frustrated and impatient.

Other times, as in the run-up Blue votives to holidays or when waiting for a vacation to begin, we fill our waiting with a checklist of frantic preparation.  This waiting has a different quality than waiting at the traffic light.  Rather than frustration, this waiting is characterized by frenzy or even panic.

Neither frustrated impatience nor self-imposed frenzy is the waiting into which Advent invites us.  Waiting for the unfolding of God’s presence and direction in our lives is altogether different.  Sacred, holy waiting is about being open to unexpected turns and unforeseen possibilities. Henri Nouwen has written, “Open-ended waiting is hard for us because we tend to wait for something very concrete, for something we wish to have. We are full of wishes, and our waiting easily gets entangled in those wishes. … But [the biblical exemplars of waiting], Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary, were not filled with wishes.  They were filled with hope.”  [Watch for the Light (NYC: Orbis Books, 2001), pp. 32-33]

Here in the Diocese of Massachusetts we have entered our own time of waiting and listening, facing forward with gratitude and hope.  I have said often that I understand my task for this first year is not the launching of new initiatives or the formulating of checklists.  Rather, my task is that of historian and companion.  I intend to spend as much time as we need together to hear the history–old stories and recent ones– for us to get to know one another and our mutual passions and yearnings.  That is precisely our agenda these days.  I expect it will require patience on my own part and yours.

As Advent begins we unite that broader diocesan time of listening and waiting with the church’s season of expectation.  Individually, as well as communally, we wonder where God is calling us, what awaits us, how God’s reign will draw closer.  In Advent we give voice to our deepest hopes and yearnings.  In prayers and hymns, often achingly, we make our Advent cry:  Come, thou long-expected Jesus!  Then we wait.  Hopefully. Patiently.  Expectantly.  We go on about our lives, but even as we do, in our heart of hearts we place ourselves in a posture of expectation.  And we wait.

Faithfully and fondly,

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates