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The Tightrope of Advent

We all know that Advent is a time of waiting. It’s fair to say that most of us learned this, in the Christian/Catholic tradition, from the time we were 2 - 3 years old. Parents tell their children, as the Advent candles are lit, that we wait for the baby Jesus, the Christ child, to be born.

What do we naturally think of when it comes to waiting? Patience. As evidence, in our modern day language, there are so many expressions related to waiting and patience, phrases that just slip out of our mouths on a regular basis, without a thought to what they really mean. “Good things come to those who wait” and my personal favorite, “Patience is a virtue.” But waiting and patience are hard. It’s generally not fun and we can become impatient, even cranky and testy in the process.

As I pondered these states of being, of waiting and being patient, I quickly came up with a list, in no particular order (though many do follow the lifespan of a person), of all the ways we wait: Waiting ….for a baby to be born, to find a partner, to get pregnant, for someone to die, for a loved one to get vaccinated, for the pandemic to be over, for someone to say they’re sorry, for a child to grow up, for a promotion, for a special birthday (16, 21), for a couple to get engaged, for grandchildren to be born, for someone to graduate, for a job offer, for a change of heart or a change of mind, for the weather to change. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Wow! That’s a lot of waiting and requires a heck of a lot of patience. But what is the alternative? To be present, in the here and now, in this very moment. But oh how challenging it is to do this. I recall the very first book I was assigned as a graduate student in my counseling program called Be Here Now by Ram Dass. The title really captures the essence of being present.

So how can we switch out of chronos, the clock that we live and wait by, to kairos, God’s time, and in the process of this switching, be in the present moment? The first two answers that popped into my mind are to breathe and to pray. Breathe because it’s essential to our staying alive (and we forget to take truly deep breaths) and pray because staying close to Jesus in prayer is pretty much my answer to all big and small questions.

So, as we walk this tightrope of waiting and being present in these remaining days of Advent, let us remember to do just those two simple acts of breathing and praying. As for me, I can say unequivocally that indeed good things have come to me when I have waited, most gloriously for the birth of Christ every Christmas.

Ellen Kelly is a spiritual director. She earned a MTS from The Jesuit School of Theology

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