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Active Waiting

My last entry about Nouwen's essay said that it's okay not to be some kind of spiritual hero while you wait for something. But I do believe there is a practice of waiting - things you can do to draw out the meaning and purpose of your particular situation. Here is what Nouwen says about this:
If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait. Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, believing that this moment is the moment.

Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, and Anna were present to the moment. That is why they could hear the angel. They were alert, attentive to the voice that spoke to them and said, "Don't be afraid. Something is happening to you. Pay attention."
I try to be present to the moment by thinking in terms of the following questions:
  • What is happening inside me?
  • What is happening around me?
  • What might God be saying to me?
For nice little Christian girls like me, asking myself what is happening inside is difficult. It means identifying how I actually feel - whether that means admitting that I actually feel sick and therefore can't follow through on a particular commitment, or admitting that I feel angry or fearful or some other emotion that I have learned to suppress as evil. But when I allow myself to just listen to what's going on inside, I meet myself on a deeper level. And it's the real me that God cares to interact with.

What is happening around me? is the fun question. Instead of fleeing my current situation or feelings, I bring myself to the moment and engage all five senses. I look out my window or listen to the wind, or I pay attention to the people around me.

And then I use the information I have gathered from within and without to see where it points. Sometimes the beauty outside my window reminds me of God's gentleness and the fact that He is taking care of me no matter what happens. Other times I see something to be done - something simple and practical like eating lunch, or something more longterm and complex, like seeking counseling. (Again, this is hard for me. Over the years I've somehow developed the mentality that suffering is merely to be endured, not addressed.) And other times, nothing happens. I stay there on my bed with my headache and nothing changes, and I try to be patient, and sometimes I am and other times I get grumpy, but eventually the headache does go away because life never sticks at just the one place forever.

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