Presiding bishop writes of yearning, expectation in ENS bulletin inserts

November 22, 2010

"The world is waiting for the birth of the long-expected One, who will bring healing and peace to all who labor and suffer in darkness," writes Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in an Advent message in ENS Weekly bulletin inserts for Dec. 2. The presiding bishop also tells of a meeting with Sudanese refugees in Salt Lake City and their longing for peace in their native land.


Slow down for the joy of Advent waiting

We stand at the beginning of Advent and the season of expectation. It's not meant to be as penitential a season as Lent, but it is meant to help us slow down and pay attention.

Think about the last pregnancy you witnessed. If you were at all close to the parents or grandparents, you know that every small change or development or unusual occurrence suddenly gained great significance. The long months of waiting honed everyone's powers of observation, particularly the mother's!

Well, the world is waiting for the birth of the long-expected One, who will bring healing and peace to all who labor and suffer in darkness. We still wait in eager expectation for the one who will lead soldiers to turn their weapons into tractors and hay balers and redirect warriors to schools of peace.

Think of the families you know whose sons and daughters are "away at war" – or the people of Sudan, praying and hoping that the coming months will not bring yet another vicious eruption of violence. Their eagerness for deliverance is nearly overwhelming.

Most of us can ignore that naked hunger most of the time. These weeks of Advent are an invitation to slow down enough to experience that yearning.

I was in Salt Lake City recently for the consecration of the Diocese of Utah's new bishop. The diocese includes a growing and thriving Sudanese community. Several of its leaders asked me to wait, and meet with them, just before we gathered for the ordination service.

The 20 or so young adults were articulate and passionate, and their spokesperson said to me, "We're lost boys and lost girls who have become lost men and lost women. There are 3,000 of us here in Salt Lake. We fear what will happen in Sudan. We want you to do something."

During the service that followed, they collected the offering and sang for us with immense joy. They know what it is to hunger and thirst for righteousness and peace.

All of us know, or can discover, that same urgent longing, if we'll slow down enough to notice it in some part of our own lives or the lives of our neighbors. The yearly invitation to wait and discover is here – will we answer?

Waiting is not easy for most who live in developed nations. We expect the details of our lives to flow relatively smoothly, and we get frustrated at every interruption or diversion.

We all know the sentiment of James Taylor's old lament, "It hurts my motor to go so slow … damn this traffic jam." One of the most profound pieces of counsel I ever heard was offered to someone frustrated by traffic jams and rude drivers – "memorize some psalms, and the next time you find yourself in that place, start reciting them at the top of your voice – with the windows rolled up."

There are other and perhaps more creative responses, but the ability to temper our reactivity is an excellent start. The next step comes from continuing to pray those psalms, especially the ones that speak of hope for a different and more peaceful future. Those psalms acknowledge our very human longing for divine balm.

Reciting psalms is a good start. There are many other creative and life-giving ways to wait. What do you dream of, what does that healed world look like? Once you have the beginnings of a concrete picture, an attitude of expectation will lead you to see that vision becoming reality in small and quiet ways. The joy of those Sudanese singers was witness to their knowledge of peace, even though life as a refugee can be enormously difficult.

The prince of peace came among us as herald of that healed world, and instigator of it. He wasn't born in a high-end hospital or hotel; he turned up pretty quietly and unobtrusively, in spite of the lofty language of Luke's Christmas story. He came to poor people, on what passed for a farm, in a nation filled with as much anxiety as Sudan is today. He is still turning up in places like that.

Do we have the time to wait and watch? Where will we discover him anew?

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori is presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church.