What can waiting teach us about relating more deeply to God? How can the experience of waiting, and an attitude of open-hearted expectancy, deepen our prayer life? Fr John Dupuche shows us how, in Advent, a meditative focus on Mary and her own experience of expectant awaiting can help us to become bearers of a special kind of peace—the peace that comes to the world in Jesus Christ.
In the brilliant and famous play by Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, the two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, wait. They don’t know for whom or for what. They wait and pass their whole lives without going anywhere or doing anything. They are waiting for Godot.
Who is Godot? Beckett himself doesn’t know; as he said in an interview with Alan Schneider, ‘If I knew, I would have said so in the play.’ (The word Godot is a nonsense word taken from French slang for a boot or shoe: une godasse.) A strain of bitter humour runs throughout the play, which is a highpoint of the ‘theatre of the absurd’. Vladimir and Estragon wait at the borderland between hope and despair, in complete ignorance, a symbol of the uncertainties of our modern world.
Meditation and the first coming
By contrast, Mary the Virgin waits in the village of Nazareth, quietly and obscurely but with faith. She knows that the God of her ancestors will be true to his promise. She, too, lives in ignorance: she does not know how exactly God will fulfil his promise, but fulfil it he will—the promise made to his people but in particular to Mary, the Daughter of Zion, who is the symbol of the Jewish people. She waits in trust, and the Almighty is as though helpless at the sight of this trust, and so the Word is made flesh in her.
Mary is the perfect model of prayer, for our prayer is an expectant awaiting. Seated in silence, we wait, allowing God to be God, knowing that he will be true to his promise to us. Faith is the starting point of meditation, an inspired faith. We do not seek to control our meditation, and there is nothing automatic in the workings of grace. We are not technicians of prayer. We are like the ‘watchman longing for daybreak’ (Psalm 130). How, when, we do not know, but the Word will come. We follow that command heard by Abba Arsenius, one of the Desert Fathers: ‘Flee, be silent, be still.’
We will be tested, for the long delay is part of the divine plan. It refines the heart and purifies the intentions. We are patient with God as he is patient with us. The less important desires fade away, unable to hold our attention. What is really valuable, what is inspired, comes to centre stage. We are blessed, therefore, even as we wait.
Meditation and the proclamation of the Word
Mary, a young, vulnerable woman in her teens, sets out and travels on foot to the hill country of Judah. She is no wilting violet! She knows how to look after herself on the roads and in the caravanserais. She enters Elizabeth’s house and greets the old lady. The joy that has come to her cannot be held back. At once the child in the old woman’s womb leaps for joy. What was there in Mary’s voice, what exultation, what resonance, that could produce such an effect? It is the moment of evangelization, not so much with words but with her whole demeanour. Elizabeth is the first to hear the Word that inhabits Mary’s womb and colours her voice.
We can imagine the two women, during the long nights, sharing their secret, their ‘women’s business’, while old Zechariah sits alone, shamed into silence for his disbelief. Elizabeth must have listened wide-eyed in wonder and tearful with joy as she heard Mary’s account of the annunciation. What fears did Mary soothe as the old woman, quite naturally, dreaded she might lose her child? What precautions did Mary take as Elizabeth, tired with age, grew even more weary in the last weeks of her pregnancy? In all of this, Mary is the messenger of good news, bringing joy into a life that had only known the shame of being barren. Her eyes shine with joy, and her delight envelopes those around her. She radiates confidence, even though she knows that when she returns home to Nazareth, she in turn will be shamed, for they will presume that something monstrous has happened to her on her journey, and that is why she is pregnant.
Similarly, the meditator is an evangeliser. What has made your heart leap, as you dwelt in silence? What did you feel? Dwell on this, welcome it, acknowledge it, for this is the aspect of the Word that has come to you and is particularly yours. Do not fear to acknowledge it. There is no place here for a false humility, a denial of the gift of God that is your gift from above, unique to you. It will inhabit your voice and your actions, your attitudes and demeanour. Meditation will produce its effects, which, like the flame of a candle placed on a lamp stand, cannot fail to radiate all around. We do not suppress the gifts of God out of a false sense of modesty. We do not consider the movements of the heart to be distractions—those movements that give us energy as they did to the young Mary. We allow ourselves to be inspired and to communicate our joy. Our meditation is naturally outgoing, a blessing to others, a communication of the Word that is shown in expansive joy, or else it is a false meditation. There is a confidence that comes from meditating according to the mind of God, a calm and a peacefulness that comes from conviction. There is a smile of joy that is the distinguishing mark of the Christian. In Mary, God visited his people symbolised by old Elizabeth. In the meditator, God visits his people today.
Meditation and the second coming
Then a surprising thing will happen. Jesus, who once was placed on the straw of the manger in Bethlehem, will come to us also, but in a second coming more glorious than the first, more lasting and permanent. The child born in the squalor of the stable was destined to shed his blood and leave us, ascending to God’s right hand; but the Jesus of the second coming arrives in glory, for he rises from deep within our inmost selves. He takes on the appearance of our face, our eyes, our gestures and emotions. He returns in us. We become him and he becomes us. His second coming occurs not literally on clouds of heaven but in the flesh of his followers. Those who see us see Jesus, and those who see Jesus see the Father who sent him. This is the third aspect of meditation.
The word ‘Advent’ means ‘coming’. It focuses on the first coming of Jesus at Bethlehem but also on his second coming. We are a ‘once and future’ people. And the future is even greater than the past. The first coming in Bethlehem was so that there might be the second coming in the Christian. We are transfigured into copies of his own glorious body (Philippians 3.21). We follow his paths and experience what he has experienced, taking the royal road of the cross (Mark 8.34) when necessary, forgiving those who do us harm. We, like Jesus, arise out of time and experience our resurrection even now. Meditation is an experience of eternity.
Here is the proof of our Christian faith: the extraordinary joy of the Christian. ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating.’ The wonder of the experiences that come in meditation is the proof of the value of faith in Christ Jesus. In all humility, we become the Christ, and as in his case, all things are made through us and for us. We are coheirs with Christ (Romans 8.17). There are no more unresolved issues, no more questions (John 16.23), for we have arrived at that peace that surpasses all understanding (cf. Philippians 4.7). Jesus has shown his power by what he has made of us.
The Emperor Caesar Augustus set up plaques of bronze in the Roman forum to celebrate his conquests and the pax romana he had brought to the world. But he could only control armies. His peace was just the absence of war. The comment at that time was: ‘They make a desert and they call it “peace”’. Jesus, however, gives the peace that nothing can take away, neither war nor illness, neither death nor even sin. He has real power.
In short, our meditation is essential if Jesus is to accomplish the task he set himself from the beginning when he took flesh in the Virgin Mary. As a result of our waiting in prayer, Jesus returns in us, and we in turn bring peace to the world.
Fr John Dupuche PE is Associate Professor at Catholic Theological College, where he lectures in spirituality, meditation and interfaith relations. He has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of North Ringwood and Park Orchards/Warrandyte. His research interests also include the relationship between Christianity and Kashmir Shaivism, a branch of Indian philosophy. He leads a small interfaith community on the outskirts of Melbourne. He is the contact person for French-speaking Catholics in Melbourne.
This article has been adapted from an article first published in The Summit in November 2011.