Advent season is almost upon us – a time of waiting, hoping, and having a trusting expectancy. It is a very different advent season for me, as seven weeks ago my wife and I got Covid-19.
After being very careful since March, unexpectedly the virus found us and began to do its work. Unfortunately, though the direct impact of the virus is over, I seem to have a version of its aftereffects called ‘long Covid.’ Some doctors have likened it to post-viral fatigue or even a form of chronic fatigue. But it is all too early for definitive diagnoses.
Most days I have a little bit of energy in the mornings, but in the afternoon comes a heavy fatigue, and I can do almost nothing. How long will this last? It may end tomorrow or continue much longer into the future. Hence the waiting, the longing, the hoping, the expecting with trust. It’s a very different advent season for me, as it is for so much of the world still facing Covid lockdowns, travel restrictions, employment losses, and overall uncertainty entering 2021.
Advent reminds us how deeply trust is connected to waiting.
There was also an impatience for change in the original advent season, for the expected healing of the world some hoped Christ’s birth would bring. Whether then or now, healing often comes in very different timings and ways than expected. Two thousand years ago, Israel’s expectations for deliverance from Roman occupation were unfulfilled. The hope for immediate change was disappointed.
Now, at the end of 2020, the fear and uncertainty the world felt in February and March seems to have increased again with second or even third waves of the virus hitting many countries and regions. I confess the sense of need to do something, feel something but now with little energy to do anything. In much of 2020, I felt the need to lament, to cry out in pain with all the world is going through. As the year moves towards a close, that feeling has returned, both in my personal life and for the world.
Yet, in the lament, as this advent season begins, I remember…
I remember at advent the need to quiet myself and wait, humbled before the God I love and follow. Going deeper, I seek with His help to see my own areas of fear and pain and wrong attitudes towards others. Turning from those attitudes, I engage with the longing to be the change I seek.
I also remember in this advent season that true change, in my own heart or in our uncertain, fearful society, often does not happen overnight. The long perspective of history can help, knowing that we labour and find stillness on the shoulders of many that have gone before us. We must trust in the slow work of God.
A few years ago, I was struggling with anxieties about the future. (Anyone else having those also today?) In that period, I went to a meeting with my spiritual director. I shared my fears, my impatience, my questioning. “How long would this go on?” I cried. Suddenly, my friend got up from his chair and said he needed to get something. What he brought to me was a copy of a treasured poem. For me, it was the first time seeing it.
I have been thinking of this poem again lately in light of all we’re going through as we enter the Advent season. It’s a season poignantly suited for this moment of global history. It’s the time when we need to accept the anxiety of feeling ourselves in suspense and incomplete. We want to skip stages to get through to what the future will look like. I will never forget the power of this poem that night in my life. I have experienced its truth more than once since: I need to trust the slow work of God. It was written by Jesuit priest and palaeontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Read it slowly. More than once. Let the words of trust and hope fill you today. It is not a call to passive inaction, but hopeful indwelling. It’s an entering into trust for the healing, whether due to the Covid virus or the many other viruses of hate, competition, injustice, pride. Centre yourself today in the trust that God is at work in you and in our broken world. Yes, we do need to find our voice and use it, but we also need to pass through the stages of instability and understand that, sometimes, it may take a very long time.
I will be formed in that slow work. It may be dramatic. It may be unseen. But I will not give up believing for healing in my life and in my world.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955)
If you’d like to observe advent, but don’t know how, here is a link for you:
2 thoughts on “An Advent for 2020: Trust in the Slow Work of God”
Thank you Steve.
Thank you so much Steve. We look to follow you on the contemplative path. I’m glad you are leading so well, and that God is so full of mercy & grace. By that grace we step ahead in silence, solitude and stillness at times, and in harried frenzy at others. No matter. I pray on with Merton’s prayer as we go…
not alone, The Lord Is With Us.