Spirituality of the Readings
Wait A Bit
St. Louis has a custard stand that many people think of as the heart of the city. It’s not actually near the center of the city at all, it is on the South Side. But it is THE place people gather on summer days.
Its name is Ted Drewes. In the evening, hundreds, literally hundreds, of hungry folks gather outside the many serving windows of this old timey place, waiting in line for a chance at the tasty stuff in all its variations (“concrete,” “Terra Mizzou”—as in the nickname for Missouri—“Cardinal Sin,” and so on). One evening I even saw a just-married couple pull up in a horse-drawn buggy, wearing their formal wedding clothes, and order frozen custard (with the obligatory pictures being snapped), and then go on to their honeymoon.
The funny thing is that no one in line is in a hurry. They talk, they enjoy the weather, they enjoy being in “the” place. If someone is needy, that person can cut into line and no one cares. These folks seem to have turned waiting into a social affair, a time of lingering patiently together.
What does this have to do with Advent? Well, look at it: in Advent, we too wait. Jesus is to be born, and in fact we have experienced him many times before at Mass. We join each other not around frozen custard but around the peace and goodness that the birth of Jesus will bring to our hearts and our relationships. We will line up together at this Sunday’s Mass, and God will turn our waiting into a social, prayerful event.
Ordinarily we do not like to be delayed. Think of traffic jams, lines at the grocery store, etc. We project our minds forward to the many things we have on our list besides wasting time. But can there really be nothing to interest us as we wait in mundane situations? At the custard stand, of course, there is the pleasant St. Louis air, people to talk with, and of course the promise of a tasty reward that will do its will with our taste-buds. Our senses open up.
Is there anything we can open to when highway traffic is creeping along at six miles per hour?
Yes. If we come to our senses we will not need a hot fudge sundae to make it worth our while to wait. In the present moment, as you read these words, hundreds of real and God-filled objects are all about you. Did you ever really feel the texture of the steering wheel you grasp every day? How about letting in the colors of the trees? The people in other cars—visible to you at six mile an hour speed? If you stay in the present instead of mainly the future or the past, you will find subtle and obvious beauty all about you. Your goal will arrive when its time comes. Meanwhile, the present tense is still happening.
Advent is like this. A time to pull in our scope a bit and realize that emptiness is a healthy and normal part of our lives. We are continually refilled if we let ourselves be. Strange to say, waiting for fulfillment is also itself a fulfillment. It lets us be what we are—not God but human.
Even in these troubled times
John Foley, SJ
* This story of Arthur is based on the book “The Sword in the Stone,” first of the series by T. H. White, called The Once and Future King (New York: Penguin/Putnam Inc., 1965). It is quite worth reading.
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University