My grandmother, Edna Binseel, died in the year 2000, at the age of 94. She was the only one of my grandparents that I knew well, the other three either died before I was born or when I was still very small. We didn’t live very close to Grandma, we were in Pennsylvania and she lived in Yonkers, NY but every summer she would join us for some time up at the lake. She was an old fashioned lady...she always wore a bathing cap to go swimming. And she would take FOREVER to get in the water. Grandma always insisted that everyone had to wait an hour after lunch before swimming, which was torture for us kids. As the second hand marked off the 60th minute, we’d hit the water running and would be splashing around and playing for at least a half an hour before Grandma even put her big toe in. More time would pass and Grandma still wouldn’t be up to her waist in the water. We’d say, “C’mon, Grandma! What are you waiting for?” And she’d say, “I’m waiting for the water to get warmer!” But then when she’d finally get all the way in, she’d say, “It’s wonderful!” Every time. And we’d say, “What took you so long?” And she’s say, “I’m an old lady. It takes old ladies longer to do things!” I’m just now beginning to understand the wisdom of that.
“What are you waiting for?” is the rhetorical question we ask when we’re growing impatient with ourselves or with others. In the fast-food, highspeed wireless, EZ Pass culture we live in, we’re impatient a lot.
It occurs to me that I’m waiting...but impatiently waiting. The season of Advent is supposed to be a time of expectant waiting, but today I asked myself again “What are you waiting for?” in that impatient, let’s-get-on-with-it tone. I’ve asked myself that question a hundred times in the past few years. The problem is, I don’t know what I’m waiting for. I have a sense of restlessness that whispers “there must be something more...there must be something more....there must be something more” as I continue to stumble around in the darkness. Is the source of my dissatisfaction just a spoiled child’s tantrum that life isn’t fair? Or is there more to it than that? What am I waiting for? For life? For love? For meaning and answers and a chance to find a different way through it all?
Birding is a good antidote to my restlessness. Every time I go out into the field, the expectation of what I might see is an invitation into the spiritual practice of waiting — watching for what presents itself. I am never disappointed; every bird is a delight: a brown creeper defying gravity, a kinglet displaying his crest, a yellow-rumped warbler foraging for a tidbit amongst the bare branches. Birds are not impatient. I see no evidence that they’re dissatisfied with their lot in life. And for the time I’m immersed in their world, I’m not either.
Inherent in the question “what are you waiting for?” when asked earnestly and without impatience is a chance to discover what it is that we hope for. Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah wrote of things that would happen when the kingdom of God is fulfilled — other-worldly visions of promises of good news for those who are poor and oppressed, for those who are sick and disabled, that God intends for ALL creation a lasting, all-encompassing peace where lions lay down with lambs and children play safely around poisonous snakes. In Isaiah’s visions, the awe and wonder of this different reality is so amazing that even the desert and the mountains burst out in bloom and sing in praise to God. We’re still waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. This is what I should be waiting for: I should be on the edge of my seat, waiting for the kingdom of God.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe my restlessness is for the kingdom of God to draw a little closer. Every now and then, I have a fleeting sense that it’s here, all around, but I can only perceive it for an instant at a time. Like in the glory of a sunrise, or the exuberance of a winter wren’s song, or when someone I love laughs with pure delight - like when Grandma finally got in the water. It’s wonderful. Every time.