A Gladness in Waiting

“Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.” (Henri Nouwen)

While on Pulau Tiga Island during a birding trip to Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, my traveling partner and I were told that Christmas Island Frigatebirds frequent the island around sunset. Considering there are only five species of frigatebirds in the world and each of us has seen one specie, we hoped for a glimpse of this fregatidae soaring over the South China Sea. As we laid waiting on the dock my travel partner invocated over and over again, “Come frigatebirds, come make our hearts glad!” They never came. At least not while we were there. Despite disappointment and cursing the frigatebird, there was a gladness in knowing that they come–that they will come–whether we see them or not.

Throughout the season of Advent we invocate, “O come, o come Emmanuel.” Emmanuel, God with us. In our waiting, there are times when God does not come when or as we think God should. Yet, as Nouwen rightly points out, our waiting is not empty. As we wait with our disappointments and cursings and with the things-not-yet-as-they-should-be, there is a gladness in knowing God-with-us comes, God-with-us is coming.

In the Postcommunion Prayer, after we have tasted and seen, we pray for strength and courage to love and serve God with gladness and singleness of heart. So, as we wait with the “conviction that we have already seen God’s footprints,” let us with gladness and singleness of heart rejoice for our waiting is not empty. “Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”