Nobody likes waiting. Not any more. We used to be able to wait with equanimity, but our patience levels seem to reduce each year. Modern technology has brought wonderful and incredible advances and abilities that previous generations only dreamed of. But there are also flip sides – and one of those appears to be an inability to wait patiently for things to happen in their own time.
It’s a feature of modern life, beautifully exemplified by Amazon and the ‘Order Today Get It Tomorrow’ of online shopping, that we want things immediately. But the world does not naturally operate in that way. And waiting brings beauty and promise that we would otherwise miss.
In the past weeks, I have been doing a bit of gardening. Normally I don’t have the time! And it’s not that I have more time now – in some ways I am busier than ever – but it is that my approach to time has changed. Looking out my study window, I now have a small garden which has grown and morphed over the past weeks. I have learned from YouTube about taking cuttings and repotting things, and I have loved working with my daughter, getting our hands covered in compost – or as she puts it, ‘mud’. And I am reminded of the old adage, one is closer to God’s heart in a garden than any place else on earth. For after all, God was the original Gardener!
Gardens – and plants – take time to grow. And so do people. And that brings me back to Pentecost. It’s called Pentecost because it is fifty days after the Resurrection. Jesus walked with his disciples for forty days after he rose again, and then he returned to heaven to be with the Father. And then, another time of waiting – ten days between Ascension and Pentecost.
Times of waiting can seem empty, but they might be better seen as times of preparation. A time in which a space is created and made ready for what comes next. Jesus had to go into heaven in order for the Holy Spirit to have space to come and dwell in our hearts. But the waiting time between seeming loss and being refilled is so important. What comes next is not the same shape, size or dynamic as what has gone. The new thing can’t just fit into the old space. The space has got to adapt and be made ready for what will be.
I feel there are all kinds of parallels with the global situation at present as we all try to work out what our individual and collective new ‘normal’ is going to be in a Covid-19 world. Each one of us will have to work that through, and together we will have to work out what society and culture is now going to look like and how it will function. And the waiting time is crucial in giving us the space to do this.
There are times right now when the immensity of the changes we have undergone and which are likely to linger feel overwhelming. It is so tempting to retreat, however we can, into the old and familiar. But we cannot go back. As the hymn-writer says, ‘Time like an ever-rolling stream bears all its sons away..’ There is only one constant, and that is God, who sustains all life and existence from moment to moment.
And if we can dwell in each moment, one at a time, if we can bear the waiting, then time itself will help us to re-shape and adapt to what comes next. And above all, we are not alone – for we have the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Accompanier, the Consoler, who dwells in our hearts. This Helper Spirit is the gift of God. It speaks in a very small voice, we have to listen for it! But through waiting, through stillness, through patience, it becomes clearer and louder, guiding and accompanying us into whatever the future may hold.
As we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost again, and remember the birth of the Church on that first Pentecost Day, let us pray again for the Holy Spirit to be renewed within us, for us to reconnect and listen again for that still small voice, and for the Spirit to bring new life to us, our families, and to the Church throughout the world.