As promised this week begins our exploration of the stories we tell this time of year. And we begin with the season of Advent. It’s not a story I personally grew up with, but one I’ve loved bringing into my practice.
We’ll explore the cave of the heart (a topic we’ll examine in more depth at the Yoga Church Annual Retreat next summer) and the spiritual practice of waiting.
What’s the call of your heart this season? Can you hear it?
Waiting in the Cave of the Heart (Advent)
This sermon is all about the practice of waiting and I highly recommend you wait all the way to the end of the video… Just saying. 😉
I’m so excited to be exploring the season of Advent with you today. As you know I didn’t grow up religious, so beyond seeing the occasional advent calendar full of chocolate at a friends house, I wasn’t familiar with the season. And as an adult I ended up in decidedly non-liturgical traditions so I’m still not really that familiar with it. But last year I decided I wanted to learn and so I started regularly attending a small Episcopal Church near where I live. The priest, her name is Dawn, agreed to meet with me and teach me about liturgy. From her I learned that the season of Advent is the season of waiting. In Christian communities, people wait for both the birth of Christ and the 2nd coming of Christ. Dawn also told me, and I hope I’m getting this right, that it’s about expectantly waiting for the daily experience of Christ. I love thinking about the season of Advent as this trinity of waiting. To me it represents the spiritual practice of waiting for—of expecting—incarnation, freedom, and presence in our lives.
But let’s not skip ahead—before we explore what we’re waiting for—we have to explore what it means to wait. The word wait can feel like the opposite of action. We wait at a red stop light, which means we’re not moving. We wait in a long grocery store line, which means we’re moving very slowly… People don’t like to wait. We like to act. We like to move forward. So what does it mean to wait as a spiritual practice?
First, I think it means examining our aversion to waiting. Why don’t we have any patience? Why are we trying to escape the moment we’re currently in? Are we running away from something we’re afraid of? Are we running toward something we crave? Do we believe that the act of waiting isn’t productive, isn’t doing anything, isn’t taking us anywhere?
Priest and author Henri Nouwen, writing about the spiritual practice of waiting said:
“Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. That’s the secret. The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone … who believes that this moment is the moment.”
The spiritual practice of waiting is not about wishing for something to happen in the future. It’s about staying present with the hope that something is already happening. Henri Nouwen describes it as waiting with a sense of promise. Jewish writer Simone Weil wrote: “Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” Waiting with a sense of promise… Waiting patiently in expectation… While I’m not always great at waiting, I’m encouraged by these ideas. And I love the story of this season. I mean think about that. It’s a big deal kinda story! During the season of Advent we wait—with expectation and promise—for the birth of God in our lives.
Sister Doris Klein, who believes that Christ was born in a cave, said: “In the cave of our hearts…in the fabric of our lives..in the soul of our earth..you continue, O God, to be born.” She said: “We all carry a cave…a hidden place within us, into which God longs to be born.”
The cave of our heart isn’t something we’ll see on an x-ray. But every spiritual tradition I’ve studied speaks of its existence. Advent is a season of inner longing and deep hopefulness. In the cave of our heart we long for the incarnation and presence of God, hoping for the kind of freedom and peace that can only come from God.
Psalm 85, translated by Nan C Merrill, cries:
“Listen, O people, in the silent chapel of your heart; and the Beloved will speak of peace to you, to the hidden saints, to all who turn their hearts to Love. Surely new life is at hand for those who reverence Love; O, that harmony might dwell among the nations.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will embrace one another. Wisdom will spring up from the ground and truth will look down from the sky. Yes, the Eternal Giver will grant what is good, and the lands will yield abundantly. Mercy and compassion are Love’s way, and will guide our footsteps upon the path of peace.”
In this season—in the darkest days of the year—we wait with expectation and promise that the presence of Divine Light will be incarnated in our lives and shepherd us into a new way of being. Into a peace that’s lasting.
The spiritual practice of waiting is not passive. It’s the gathering up of all our energy and then plunging deep into the cave of our heart, it’s the practice of turning our gaze and turning our listening inward. The spiritual practice of waiting is waiting in full hopeful belief that all we need is always, already within us.
In the Chandogya Upanishad we read:
“As great as the infinite space beyond is the space within the lotus of the heart. Both heaven and earth are contained in that inner space, both fire and air, sun and moon, lightning and stars. Whether we know it in this world or know it not, everything is contained in that inner space.”
As you wait in the Cave of your Heart this Advent season, I offer you this blessing, written by the artist and minister Jan Richardson:
Blessing for Waiting
Who wait for the night to end
Who wait for the night to begin
Who wait in the hospital room who wait in the cell who wait in prayer
Who wait for news who wait for the phone call who wait for a word
who wait for a job a house a child
Who wait for one who will come home
who wait for one who will not come home
Who wait with fear who wait with joy who wait with peace who wait with rage
who wait for the end who wait for the beginning who wait alone who wait together
Who wait without knowing what they wait for or why
Who wait when they should not wait who wait when they should be in motion who wait when they need to rise who wait when they need to set out
Who wait for the end of waiting who wait for the fullness of time who wait emptied and open and ready who wait for you,
My first question relates to last week’s sermon… Have you been thinking about the stories you tell through the holidays you celebrate? How’s it been for you to ponder these questions and move through the December routine?
Is Advent an important story for you? If so, what does it mean for you personally?
How do you feel about waiting?
Have you ever tried to wait with intention? To wait with expectation and promise? With hope that something is already happening?
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