In his novel Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis tells this story,
“One morning…I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree, just as the butterfly was making a hole in the case preparing to come out. I waited a while, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumbled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole body to unfold them. Bending over it I tried to help it with my breath. In vain.
It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.
That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.”
It is a tribute to the wisdom of the Christian tradition that we begin our yearly journey together in a season dedicated to waiting.
Waiting may be the most essential spiritual discipline there is. Or we should say, waiting with purpose is a spiritual discipline, for not all waiting is equal. Much of the waiting we do is filled with distraction and blinking lights on a screen. Killing time is a way to wait, but it’s not a spiritual discipline. In fact, it may be the opposite.
But there is a way to wait that is deeply spiritual. This kind of waiting is measured less in minutes and hours and more in trust, and, on this first Sunday of Advent, hope.
I’m talking about the kind of waiting that happens when we watch the sun rise or set.
The kind of waiting that happens when tea is steeping or when bread is rising.
The kind waiting that happens as we hold a loved one’s hand when they take their last breath.
The kind of waiting that happens when we find new ways to live once they’re gone.
This is advent waiting: waiting with purpose, waiting with trust that what we anticipate happening will happen. Waiting with hope that what’s to come will, somehow and someway, be a blessing, an unfolding of new life.
To ready ourselves for God’s new and fresh arrival in our lives and in the world requires that we reacquaint ourselves with God’s “eternal rhythm.” It’s a rhythm far different from the hurried, breathless pace that beats all around us. But if we can summon the courage to quiet our minds and our spirits, we find it is a rhythm that beats deep within us.