Friday, December 12, 2014

Active Waiting: A Radical Attitude Toward Life

I recently came across a collection of writings by the late Henri Nouwen. Edited by Robert Durback, this collection is entitled Seeds of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader. There was one part of Henri's writings that particularly resonated with me and the place I currently find myself spiritually. It's to do with waiting – waiting actively, meaning with hope and trust, trust not with our wishes in mind but rather with hope in God's love for us.

Because of this excerpt's focus on waiting, I thought it would be good and appropriate to share during this time of Advent.

I've chosen images of practitioners of yoga to accompany Henri's words as I've always viewed yoga as a spiritual disciple and practice that is all about being actively and trustingly open in and to the present moment. There's a stillness to the poses, but they're far from passive. They seem to me to embody some very beautiful ways of, in Henri's words, "nurturing the moment" and "waiting in open-endedness."

A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means willingness to stay open where we are and live the situation out to the fullest in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involve nurturing the moment . . .

But there is more. Waiting is open-ended. Open-ended waiting is hard for us because we tend to wait for something very concrete, for something that we wish to have. Much of our waiting is filled with wishes: "I wish that the weather would be better." "I wish that the pain would go." We are full of wishes, and our waiting easily gets entangled in those wishes. For this reason, a lot of our waiting is not open-ended. Instead, our waiting is a way of controlling the future. We want the future to go in a very specific direction, and if this does not happen, we are disappointed and can even slip into despair. That is why we have such a hard time waiting; we want to do the things that will make the desired events take place. Here we can see how wishes tend to be connected with fears.

Hope is something very different [to wishes]. Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes. Therefore, hope is always open-ended. I have found it very important in my life to let go of my wishes and start hoping. It was only when I was willing to let go of wishes that something really new, something beyond my own expectations, could happen to me.

To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God's love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.

– Henri Nouwen
Excerpted from Seeds of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader
pp. 158-160
(Originally published in the article,
"A Spirituality of Waiting: Being Alert to God's Presence,"
Weavings, January 1987)

For more words of wisdom from Henri Nouwen, see the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Guidepost on the Journey
To Be Held and to Hold
In the Garden of Spirituality – Henri Nouwen
Lent with Henri

For more Advent reflections, see:
Advent: The Season of Blessed Paradox
The Centered Life as an Advent Life
Rejoice? (Advent 2012)
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 1)
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 2)
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 3)
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 4)
Thoughts on Waiting . . . and a Resolution
My Advent Prayer for the Church
Advent: Renewing Our Connection with the Sacred

1 comment:

Sue Ann said...

thanks, Michael. You know that I am not a religious person, but this post certainly does resonate with me as I continue on the cancer journey. I am always pushing for results, and need to, but am also spending a lot of time waiting, waiting, waiting, so to think of that waiting this way is very helpful. I am putting the words on my desktop.

Sue Ann