Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More Thoughts on Absence

Christian practice can be summed up by the word patience. In the New Testament patience means waiting for God for any length of time, not going away, and not giving in to boredom or discouragement.

—Thomas Keating
Cistercian priest and monk (from explorefaith.org Advent Calendar0

Patience is not an exclusively Christian practice. Waiting, terrible waiting, is true in the Old Testament as well. It is to wait with Abraham for half a century until Isaac is finally born. It is to keep faith with the Hebrews for half a millennium of slavery in Egypt. To keep faith when dragged into captivity in Babylon, or, when returning, to discover that all that one has loved lies in ruins. Where is God in the midst of such discouragement or chaos? It is one thing to read the story when I know how it is going to end, when I can skip over all the fruitless years and be there for the good part. It is quite another to exist in the middle.

My Jewish friends say something very important when they say they are still waiting for the Messiah. They remind me that I am waiting, too. Even when one professes Jesus as the Chosen One of God, one also professes a teacher whose life and teachings were cut short by a cross. He may have been able to say all he needed to say, but we did not have time to hear. Which is one reason why he said he would be back. Which is why we have the Ascension to mark that though he rose from the dead, he’s also really gone. Christians, like Jews, live in world that is unfinished, and most of our fleeting lives are lived in the middle.

All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Isaiah 40: 6b-8 (from the reading for the Second Sunday of Advent)

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