This Wednesday, right in the middle of Lent, 9 months before Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation – the commemoration of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary when God said, “Have I got an opportunity for you!”
Well, not verbatim, perhaps. But still, while we are in the middle of our Lenten fast, nearing Holy Week, some of us still snowed under (looking at you East Coast), we recall the moment when God impregnated Creation with something to be born, something that will grow, someone who will change the world…slowly and yet in an instant.
We might admit that this plan of salvation when God became human could have been a bit speedier. Being gestated and born; growing from a tiny baby to a man; having that man preach, heal, and be present with humanity for a three year active ministry as recalled in the Gospels (of John, anyway) – this takes time. Then, after all that time, we get into Passiontide and Holy Week. And finally, finally we reach the Triduum and the big moment of Resurrection.
Which we think is the end, but it isn’t, because God always has more to say. So another 50 days later, and Pentecost. Then another 2000 years, give or take a few, and God is still creating. Not exactly instantaneous. God, it seems, enjoys working slowly.
We, however, get impatient if our web pages don’t load in milliseconds and our prayers aren’t answered with certain time limits.
So one can see how our impatience and God’s long view of time can clash on occasion. We humans like things to happen yesterday, in an instant, and on our time. And when they don’t, we take matters into our own hands, usually forcing a resolution and growth that isn’t sustainable or healthy.
The great shifts, the great healings, the great times of forgiveness and reconciliation, and the great redemptions and births of something new into our lives rarely happen in an instant. They take time to develop, to take root and be nurtured into fullness and strength. Rushing them can lead those very plants (and things) we so desperately wanted to grow to sprout quickly and wither under the forces of this thing called life, if they ever sprout at all.
God knows this. We often forget.
In our Lenten fast, God reminds us of the value of slowness with the Feast of the Annunciation. Yes, there are miraculous moments where life is changed in an instant. Mary was not pregnant, and then she was carrying within her God Incarnate. Jesus was dead, and now he is living. In an instant.
The impact of these instantaneous holy events in our selves and souls takes time to gestate and grow. The Holy may suddenly be present, but we need time to move from the newness that is present into the fullness and birth that will come. And to move through that time, we will experience times of uncertainty, instability, and even pain. Growth and change rarely come without some discomfort. I don’t know why, but there you go.
Teilhard de Chardin, in his beautiful prayer, reminds us to trust in the slow work of God. I think its words capture a truth of the Feast of the Annunciation and even Easter…and all the times in our lives when God is shifting us, moving us, and changing us as we prepare to birth something new into our lives.
As we near the end of our Lenten time and prepare to enter into Holy Week, don’t skip over this moment of Annunciation, where we are – again – reminded to give time – God’s time – for the work of God within us and our communities. We are again reminded to allow ourselves to trust in the slow work of God. We are again reminded to give God the time God needs to let the things planted within us to grow and develop in holy time rather than at our expected demands.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.