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A time for waiting


12/21/17



 We have all had these experiences: looking for the supermarket checkout lane with the fewest customers ahead of us, finding alternative routes to avoid traffic, tapping our fingers as we wait for a web page to appear, fussing in an airport when TSA seems to take too much time to process passengers. These experiences, and thousands like them, provoke our impatience, frustration and occasionally outright anger. Why? For the simple reason that we consider our time valuable, so valuable in fact that we do not want to waste it waiting.  

Our expectation of efficiency extends across almost everything we do: fast food, 10-minute oil changes, on-demand services, expedited shipment, fast pain relief, wonder diets and even shortcuts to spiritual enlightenment. Coincidentally, the epitome of all this comes at almost the same time of year as does its exact opposite. Black Friday, which launches the pre-Christmas shopping stampede, occurs shortly before the Christian season of Advent. In most Christian communities, Advent (from the Latin “to come”) is the four-week period leading to Christmas and represents a period of preparation for the observance of Christmas, the birth of Christ, and for what many believe will be his eventual return. Whatever may be its religious significance, however, Advent is a time of waiting. Now think about that for a moment.  A “time of waiting” is antithetical to the priority we assign immediate results. Why would anyone wait for anything?
Regardless of the name given to any of them, all religious traditions emphasize the experience of waiting — more specifically, quiet waiting: a period of time in which all other activities cease and a person simply sits silently and open to whatever voice may speak to her or him. It is a period not unlike that dormancy we experience annually as winter. Nature is closed in on herself, the forces and powers of the previous seasons have ended and new ones are germinating, ready to burst forth in the spring. Over the millennia, traditional societies have marked this time of year with seasonal festivals, including the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and the beginning of the gradual lengthening of days. The lesson is obvious: fresh, new life comes about only by passing through this period of quietude, this period of waiting.
The word “pregnant” captures this paradox beautifully. Its etymology is “before birth.”  Pregnancy is preeminently a period of waiting but also of development. It might be interesting to think of these weeks before Christmas in a different way.
Stephen Reno is executive director of Leadership New Hampshire. His email is stepreno@gmail.com. 





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