Watch and Wait

A woman suffered from a terrible headache.  When she went to the emergency room, she came home with a diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumor.  Her friend, surrounding her with love, began to watch and wait.  The friend didn’t panic or try to find a way to fix what wasn’t fixable.  She simply was present, resting in God, holding the woman in Love.  Of course the friend hurt, grieved, wondered why it had to be.  And she celebrated their friendship.  She held all these feelings in an inner place of quiet and trust, as she carried the woman in her heart and her prayer.

I was on retreat, giving time and focus to preparing upcoming talks.  For a while I tried to push my way through the work I had to do.  I read relevant material from book after book, continuing even when I was sleepy and losing interest.  The harder I worked, the less useful the work was.  Remembering I was on a spiritual retreat, I stopped the pushing and controlling.  I surrendered and began to watch and wait.  I listened to what my body needed.  I did things that brought joy.  And when I heard in my heart that it was time to do more preparation, I turned to that, receiving what was given me.

To watch and wait is important in the contemplative life–a life grounded in God, being seated at the feet of Jesus, open to the leading of the Spirit.  Its opposite is busyness, being preoccupied with what is coming next, rushing from one thing to another and never being fully present anywhere.   When we watch and wait, we are inwardly and outwardly attentive, mindful, observant, prayerful, and present with our hearts open and tender.  In order to be so, we will be surrendered and trusting in Holy Mystery.

Queries:

Being in limbo can be a time of high anxiety and stress or an invitation to watch and wait.  What has been your experience?

What allows you to live in the quiet surrender of watching and waiting?

Prayer:

“Stay with me.  Remain here with me.  Watch and pray. Watch and pray.” (Sing this Taize chant over and over.  It invites a felt sense of being present with Jesus and of Jesus being present with you.)

For further reference:

“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).

“Only in God is my being quiet.  From God is my rescue.  Only God is my rock and my rescue, my stronghold—I shall not stumble” (Psalm 62: 1-2, Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary).

Practice, Practice, Practice

As a child I took piano lessons, but I never developed a routine of practicing. When I did practice—when I felt like it or got around to it in the midst of all the other things I was doing—I was more likely to play what I wanted to than to do the exercises that my teacher had given me. After a few years the lessons ended. I learned a few things that still serve me today, but I lost many of the gifts I could have been given, in particular the joy of being able to share piano music with others.

Spiritual practices, for example centering prayer, are also hard to practice and maintain. We are drawn by so many other good things (to say nothing of those not so good). Spiritual disciplines may be viewed as obligations, something we should do, which makes practice seem burdensome. We may be into costs and benefits and not be sure what the benefit might be or whether it is something we really care about. And to make a practice routine takes commitment and months of daily choosing to do it.

The good news is that any spiritual practice that we do, whenever we do it, has value because God is present. Regular doing of the practice may make us experienced in the discipline and more likely to recognize and cherish the riches we are being given. Perhaps in our very being, the joy we have received through our practice will be shared. A deep longing for relationship with God opens the door.

Queries:

What spiritual practice do you do, or might you be drawn to, individually or in a community—for example, centering prayer, praying for others, journaling, meditation, Bible reading and reflection, fasting, quiet time; participation in liturgy or Eucharist, expectant waiting worship, service?

What might help you establish a routine of doing the practice? What is the desire of your heart?

Prayer:

“Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out Your holy and true command.” (The Prayer Before the Crucifix at San Damiano, St. Francis of Assisi, www.ofm.org/francesco/pray/pray01.php)

For further reflection:

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for you, O God” (See Psalm 42:1-2).

“Nothing that anyone says [about prayer] will be that important. The great thing is prayer. Prayer itself. If you want a life of prayer, the way to get to it is by praying.” (Notes from Brother David Steindl-Rast with Thomas Merton) www.gratefulness.org/resource/recollections-of-thomas-mertons-last-days-in-the-west/

Hands-On Prayer

As a chaplain I attended Quakers in Pastoral Care and Counseling (QPCC). We were divided into small groups for sharing about our work situations. At the end of those sessions we prayed for one another, putting one person at a time in the center of the group. That person shared specific joys, concerns, and hopes. The other group members gathered around the person, touching the person (being sensitive to what was comfortable for the focus person and the pray-ers) and praying for her or him aloud and silently. I left those sessions feeling encouraged, supported, and grounded in God.

In another small group of which I am currently a part, we used this practice in praying for persons in the group. Although we had earlier acknowledged questions and qualms about intercessory prayer, the impact of this intercessory praying was palpable and powerful. Love and care, compassion and a sense of oneness literally coursed through our bodies. I would have to say that the bond we sensed between us was more than a human connection. And I feel confident that the experience meant as much to those who prayed as to those who were prayed for. We were all touched by the presence and love of God.

Obviously the focus person can share a need for his or her own healing. But the person can also carry a concern for someone else’s healing and be the vehicle for prayers for that other person. And this prayer is a great way for sending a person off on a mission or back into the workplace and ordinary life, an occasion of thanksgiving and blessing. What is required for this kind of praying is simple, and hard—being willing to be vulnerable with one another and with God.

Queries:

How have you felt God’s touch in your life? If God touched you, would you notice?

How do you find the loving line between sensitivity to the wounds people have suffered from being hurtfully touched and extending a physical expression of God’s love?

Prayer:

Find a way to express God’s love in a tangible way, or notice how someone else has given that gift to you.

For further reflection:

“Some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.” (See Mark 8: 22-26.)

“Mind that which is eternal, which gathers your hearts together up to the Lord, and lets you see that ye are written in one another’s heart.” George Fox (Epistle 24, 1653)