waiting upon the Lord is NOT passive...

As part of my intermittent work on an emerging spirituality of tenderness ripens (something I
intend to devote greater attention to after February 2017 when I begin a season of retirement and part time ministry) - as well as my current task of assisting our congregation in transition from an old way of being the Body of Christ into something new - I want to research and ponder the Biblical origins of "waiting upon the Lord." It is my experience that a gap exists between what contemporary people consider "waiting" and what the Judeo-Christian heritage of discernment actually instructs. Simply, it seems to be the difference between casual resting and/or passivity rather than the intense listening, thinking, trusting and praying required to live in pursuit of doing "Thy will on Earth as it is already being done in Heaven." 

Quietude and inactivity are quite different from wrestling with the Living Word of the Lord be that
Jacob wrestling with God's angel, Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane or the way of the Virgin after receiving Gabriel's news that she would bear the Messiah by the presence of the Holy Spirit. As I explore this more thoroughly - and disconnect from the limited wisdom of popular piety - it strikes me that waiting upon the Lord involves contemplation, meditation, analysis and also acceptance. Two initial Hebrew texts warrant deeper consideration for me:  Isaiah 40: 31 and Psalm 37.

+ Isaiah 40: 31 reads: 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. The Hebrew verb qal (plural) from qavah (to wait) evokes a few fascinating  possibilities including: the twisting tension that binds the strands of a rope together, dancing as well as trembling and/or writhing in fear. There appears to be nothing passive about such waiting in this type of anticipation anymore than there is as a woman labors to bring forth a child in birth. To wait upon the Lord, it seems to me, is to actively engage the fullness of God's promise in your mind, heart, body and soul even as you explore the material and spiritual implications of such waiting. Such discernment is grounded in grace, to be sure, trusting that God's will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. And, at the same time, it is creatively engaging the Spirit in pursuit of how best to live into these promises.

+ Such is the challenge of Psalm 37: 1-9:  that advises people of faith not to fret, but to trust, be still and wait:  Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,  for they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act... Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.  Do not fret - charah - involves choosing not to burn in anger or letting distress kindle a fire within. It suggests a meditative move away from resentment towards the serenity of acceptance.  Trust - batach - encourages a bold commitment to God's love that is greater than our ability to comprehend. As the Serenity Prayer suggests, it has to do with our powerlessness in the presence and acceptance of God's ultimate grace. Rest or be still - damam - is to cease activity and be silent for a time. And wait patiently - qavah - is to trust the inner tension and struggle for clarity even while releasing our discernment into the majesty of God's love.

Is there prayer and silence in waiting? Of course. Is there a stepping away from activity for a season of discernment? Beyond a doubt.  And is there a trusting acceptance that God's will and love is greater than our ability to comprehend? Always. AND... not IF but AND... and there is the hard work of listening, problem solving, twisting, praying and experiencing even angst in pursuit of grasping the will of the Lord. Like the parable of the 10 maidens teaches:  we must be ready and alert, not asleep, passive or bewildered - as Matthew 25 makes clear.

Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’  But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

It is not surprising to me, therefore, that Matthew 25 concludes with a word of judgment concerning those who are so "asleep" and/or self-absorbed as to be unable to see the presence of Jesus in the least of these our sisters and brothers. I will be playing with this notion more in the weeks to come.

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