As we enter the season of waiting—otherwise known as Advent—it might be helpful to think of those for whom waiting is an intolerable way of life. These are people longing for what our faith tells them should be a constant spiritual presence. Yet, they can’t reach out and touch it with THEIR faith. The result can either be clinical depression and loss of faith, or a dogged life’s journey toward spiritual fulfillment. St. John of the Cross, 16th century poet, seer and doctor of the Church, opted for the latter. But he believed the soul must first empty itself of self in order to be filled with God—that it must be purified of the last traces of earthly junk before it can be united with that divine presence. That purification process is painful, however. In his Stanzas of the Soul that Suffers with Longing to See God, he wrote:
This life that I live
is no life at all,
and so I die continually
until I live with you;
hear me, my God:
I do not desire this life,
I am dying because I do not die.
Sunday’s reading from Paul to the Corinthians (1 COR 1:3-9) reads like a consolation to people with such longing. He takes them on a journey through faith, from its optimistic side to the kind of darkness expressed by John of the Cross. First he seems to try bolstering faith:
As you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, He will keep you firm to the end.
But only a few verses later he goes to the dark side (1Corinthians 1:21-25), advising us not to seek that faith through faith in human wisdom:
For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. … For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
What a paradox our God is! But in Sunday’s first reading (IS 63:16B-17, 19B; 64:2-7), the prophet Isaiah criticizes humanity for those times it loses its faith and hardens its heart. He says God is justified in making us work for a faith based on recognizing who we are to Him:
For you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt. Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.
So, as we enter the season of Advent—of waiting for when we will live in God’s arms—Mark’s gospel reminds us that Jesus challenges us to make good use of this waiting room called life (MK 13:33-37). After all, it’s not solitary confinement. He made us to serve others so we can see Him in each other and therefore be prepared to receive Him with thanksgiving when he knocks on our door—when we least expect Him.
It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.
When we finally accept the fact that the wisest of us aren’t so smart, and the strongest among us will eventually die, it only makes sense that we surrender ourselves to being the continuous expression of our paradoxical God ‘s eternal existence–and love—for each of us.