The Beloved Waiting in the Heart of Darkness, Retreat
Reflections part 1:
“The Joy of Waiting”
This is part of my short series of reflections about the Echo Winter retreat.
Originally posted to the Butler Catholic Community blog (http://butlercatholiccommunity.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-joy-of-waiting.html)
Last week, as many of you know, I was away on retreat for
five days. It was a retreat with Echo (my graduate program) and in packing and
preparing for the retreat, I was much more focused on the idea that I would
soon see my friends than I was on spending five days with Christ. I am
embarrassed, as a campus minister, to admit that. Yet, as I have spoken with my
students so many times, friendship is in itself a form of prayer. Everyone in
Echo is close, and it had been since August that I had seen my fellow Echo
Apprentices, my dear friends. Perhaps it is fitting, given my attitude, that
when my community (Pat, Amy, and Joe) was almost all the way to the retreat
center, a four-hour drive for us, we started receiving text messages from our
friends that their flight into South Bend was delayed.
We arrived at the retreat center thinking that perhaps our
friends would be there later that night. As time passed and the plane was still
not leaving, we all realized it was not going to happen. Instead, my community
would wait with the Associate Director of Echo, Luke, and hang out at the
retreat center and the retreat would start the next afternoon, when our friends
would finally arrive. While twenty other Echo apprentices were stuck in the
airport for almost an entire day (and later, stuck at a shabby hotel where
Delta had put them up), my community and I were forced to entertain ourselves.
Patrick, Amy, and I played soccer in the dining hall (or, more accurately,
half-heartedly kicked the soccer ball back and forth) for an hour and then,
joined by Joe and Luke, we ate pizza as a community. We were not in the highest
spirits—we were waiting.
After dinner, we managed to raise our spirits a little. I
confessed I had never played pool, so the men decided I needed to learn.
Patrick and Luke patiently taught me. While I was frustrated at first, they
coaxed me into having fun. We managed to enjoy ourselves and lose track of the
time amid our laughter at my epically poor pool skills—all the while
anticipating our friends’ arrival the next day. We tried to come up with
stories to tell them when they arrived and, through the glory of technology, kept
up with where they were and what they were up to, even though we were still
It is interesting, given this incident at the beginning,
that the theme chosen for our retreat was “The Beloved Waiting in the Heart of
Darkness.” We spent a lot of time waiting that first night, waiting to hear if
our friends would come. Once we knew they weren’t, we were waiting for the
morning when they would be there and the retreat could begin in earnest. All
the while, we reminded ourselves that we were not alone—we could wait together
and in our companionship, find consolation for missing our dear friends.
I think that one of the great things about this retreat
theme was that it was ambiguous—we weren’t really sure what or who the beloved
is. Perhaps I am the beloved one, the beloved of God who is waiting amidst the
darkness of my life—waiting for God, waiting for love, for hope, for light.
Perhaps Christ himself is the beloved and he waits for me in the darkness. Or,
perhaps it is the waiting itself that is beloved.
During one of the talks during the retreat, the last of
these was suggested by our formation director, Jan. What if it is the waiting
itself that is beloved? She told us a story she had heard about a grandmother.
This grandmother was well loved by her children, grandchildren, and great
grandchildren. On one of her birthdays, they threw her a surprise party. When
the party came around and the grandmother walked in and they surprised her, she
was disappointed. She asked them, “How could you rob me of the joy of
anticipating being with you?”
The joy of anticipation… how beautiful is that? But you
know, thinking about it, it is true. I know that before my students all come
back at the beginning of the semester, when I’m sitting in my office,
organizing for the upcoming events, I anticipate their arrival. And it’s a joy
to anticipate. I know that soon, I will be busy and in the thick of it. At the
beginning, I spend some time just anticipating, preparing, and readying myself…
and, hopefully, doing so with love. Anticipating is part of the loving.
My community and I experienced this very clearly as we were
anticipating our friends at the retreat center. When they arrived, the vans
pulled up and they piled out. We raced out to the cars and hugged each of them
almost before they were out of the car. And as we waited for the last two vans,
I know that the anticipation was growing in my heart. My best girlfriend from
my senior year of college, Meg, was in the last van to arrive. As much as I
LOVED hugging each of my other 19 friends, I know that I kept anticipating her
arrival even more after the others were there. Having friends like Matt, Sarah,
Annie, and Kathy in my arms made me want to hug Meg all the more. The promise
that she would arrive soon took away any anxiety of the waiting. The waiting
was truly beloved, and it made the moment of reunion that much more beautiful.
Had Meg arrived first, I might have lost track of that moment, or, worse, I
might have been denied a moment of reunion with my other friends. Instead, the
waiting was beloved and beautiful.
Perhaps this revelation for me, the beauty and beloved
quality of waiting, should have come about before… like, at Advent, for
example. I mean, it is the season of waiting ( and, as I have said before, my
favorite liturgical season). Advent is dark—literally, as the days grow
shorter; and figuratively, as many people face seasonal depression or sadness
related to loss experienced during the holidays or simply from being alone. But
even now, in ordinary time, we might face waiting. I wait anxiously for a final
decision to be made about my plans for next year. Seniors wait for jobs or
acceptance to grad school. Many sophomores wait for acceptance to the Pharmacy
program. We are all waiting for something.
As for the anxiety associated with waiting, I found
consolation in some of the reading we did on retreat. Thomas Merton wrote: “On
all sides I am confronted by questions I cannot answer because the time for
answering them has not yet come.” (from The Fire Watch)
We have to trust that God’s silence is not because He
doesn’t know the answer or, an even worse thought, because He doesn’t care. It
is simply because the time for answering has not yet come. There can be any
number of reasons for this. In my experience, it is often because I am not yet
the person who God intends to give an answer to.
My invitation for today is to remember that even in the
heart of darkness, the waiting can be beloved. Let the joy of anticipation fill
you. Trust in the Lord, do not be anxious. The time for answering will come.
For now, we wait in joyful hope.