Waiting on God: in Advent and in the writing life

Waiting is a spiritual practice that is highlighted in Advent. Waiting can also be an important practice for artists. These days, I feel that I’m in a time of waiting for inspiration to strike. I’ve finished the first draft of the first two chapters of my newest book and on one level, I’m pleased that I’ve gotten something down that seems to flow and make sense. But on another, deeper level, I seem to be waiting to be shown the path.

It’s not a passive waiting in the sense that I’m doing nothing. I’m starting to outline the third chapter and pull my ideas together. But I’m not entirely sure that the direction I’ve chosen so far is how I’m going to continue. The topic and general direction is probably not going to change, but I suspect the specific path on which this book is leading me (and eventually the reader) needs to change.

This experience of waiting seems to have overflowed into my prayer. I’m waiting for a sense that God is with me, a sense that God wants to work through me, through this book. Somehow the “waiting” for inspiration for my book and the “waiting” for a sense of God’s presence have become linked. Fortunately, I have the spirit of Advent to assist me in waiting. One of my favorite Advent meditations (and icons of Advent) is Mary in those moments and days after the Annunciation. She has attentively, generously responded to the invitation of God in her life, and now she waits on God:

–for the Word of God to take on flesh in her

–for the acceptance and understanding of St. Joseph

–for the coming of her Son who is not just her Son, but the very Son of God

–for the God who cradles the world to become the Son she can cradle in her arms

We look back on Mary’s story and everything is clear to us, but I don’t think Mary knew what to expect, or how the messianic prophecies would be fulfilled. She couldn’t have foreseen the birth in a stable or the flight to Egypt, nor how Jesus would grow up and then leave home to begin his public ministry. She couldn’t have foreseen the terrible tragedy of the Crucifixion of her Son–nor that his death would change everything, just as she couldn’t have foreseen the fullness of joy the Resurrection would bring. I suspect that her visit to Elizabeth was not just to help Elizabeth but also to seek strength and comfort during this time of expectation.

Mary waited for the coming of her Son without knowing where he would lead her. There are many Advent figures (including this week’s featured John the Baptist), but Mary is the most silent, the most present, the most engaged in waiting. The prayer of the Angelus takes on special meaning for me in this Advent season, and perhaps for the “season” of writing this book. Mary responds to God’s invitation by saying she is his handmaid–a servant or handmaid is one who “waits” on the master or mistress, just as we “wait” on God’s action in our lives.

›* * *

When Blessed James Alberione was just beginning the Pauline Family (including the Daughters of St. Paul), he described his experience as “waiting on God.” Here is one way he describes how God acts:

Providence worked in accordance with God’s ordinary method…to prepare the ways and bring them together according to His purpose, to provide the light and help needed, to make one wait in peace until His time comes, to begin always from the bare necessities, to act in such a natural way as to be unable to easily distinguish grace from nature, but, certainly, [employing] both.

Conversely, it is not the case to force God’s hand. It suffices to be on the alert, to let oneself be guided, and to strive in one’s various duties to employ mind, will, heart and physical strength…

The actions of a human being are so imperfect, unsound, inadequate and dubious that one is dutybound to put everything back into the hands of God’s Mercy and to allow oneself to be guided. He never forced the hand of Providence but always awaited God’s sign. (from Abundantes Divitiae Gratiae Suae by James Alberione, #s 43-45).

So, waiting is not just an Advent practice, it’s also a creative practice, and an important practice in the Pauline spirituality and mission. As I pray the Angelus, I will ask Mary for the grace to wait with more receptivity, more openness to guidance, more vigilance, and more peace. For a visual, musical “Angelus” moment, click play below:

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