“I find that as exciting as watching grass grow.” This was my response of yawning boredom when asked if I enjoyed watching a particular sport. If it moves too slowly, and I don’t understand or appreciate the intricacies of the plays, I feel impatient. I want to move on.
Sometimes we can’t just move on. Our only option is to wait. In my parish ministry, I spend time with people who are waiting for a medical diagnosis, or for healing from sickness and disease. Some are waiting for painful waves of grief to subside, or for financial or other crises to resolve. Some are waiting for death at life’s end. Others more happily await the birth of a healthy child or grandchild.
Waiting seems to be baked into God’s creation. The soil is prepared, and the seeds planted, but then we wait. While underground life is being nurtured and taking shape, we wait. Eventually sprouts emerge, but growth above ground takes time until ready for harvest, so we wait. Tree saplings are planted. Many years from now they will be 30 feet tall, but we must wait.
As I endure the stifling heat this summer, I think of winter. Well, not just from impatience, but because winter is the season of waiting. It begins suddenly with the first hard frost or freeze that bring death or months of dormancy. Life continues unseen underground, womb-like, preparing for spring. We may be bored or impatient for spring as we work indoors and thumb through gardening catalogs, but that won’t make spring come any faster.
I have experienced spiritual winters. Maybe you have too. Like the first killing frost – a sudden wrenching death or other loss, a trauma, a crisis. Like the winter, everything turns cold, numb, denuded, bleak and joyless. The close feeling we enjoyed with God is now silent darkness. People who observe this in you may urge you to move on, be happy. But winter is a season and will not be rushed.
Mark Buchanan’s book, Spiritual Rhythms, insightfully describes seasons in spiritual life. What a relief to read of another’s journey through spiritual winter that, over time, eventually saw the warming, thawing, and greening of spring. Describing his own spiritual season of winter after the death of a close friend, Buchanan said that he experienced denial and attempts at distraction as he poured himself into his work. But eventually, “Just doing ordinary, routine things, getting from one end of the day to the other was exhausting, precarious, sometimes unmanageable.” Though he felt distanced from and abandoned by God, he continued to meditate on scripture and pray. And waited.
The Benedictine Daily Breviary prays, “When your spirit seems silent Father, empower us to do our daily tasks and wait in patience for the time you have chosen.” Truly, day-to-day is how we wait on spring, or grief or trauma to heal, or crises to be resolved, or feeling the warmth and greenness of God’s presence surging within us again. This waiting on God is described in Isaiah 40:31:
…but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
Though it seems just the opposite, the progression is from lesser to greater. Walking – the dailiness of living – much more than the occasional soaring or sprinting is where we wait for the Lord. We may be impatient, plodding footfalls through our spiritual winter. But we trust and wait for spring’s renewal. God is surely stirring in the silence of our bleak winter, unnoticed underground, nurturing, preparing for a spiritual spring to reemerge. Wait.
By Sister Sara Aiden Burress, OSB