“Waiting is never a moment from nothing to something, but a moment from something to something.” –Henri Nouwen
For two weeks now, I’ve been struggling to write a reflection for Advent. First, I tried to write about Hope, but my thoughts were clouded by memories of disappointments, rejections, and dreams long deferred. Next, I tried to write about Peace, but my ideals seemed to fall apart in the wake of terrorism, hatred, and fear. “How can one sow seeds of peace against such disregard for human life?” I asked myself. “How can I keep holding onto hope when time and again hope has lead me to getting hurt?”
I don’t have answers yet. I’m still waiting.
Advent is a time of waiting. It’s like an antidote to secular Christmas: instead of a frantic month of holiday parties, crowded stores, and greed, Advent is a quiet season of reflection, relationships, and gratitude. It’s my favorite season of the church year, and yet that theme of waiting continues to challenge me year after year.
In the four years since I graduated from college, it seems like I have been waiting for my life to begin. Waiting for a job that can pay me a livable wage. For a career I feel passionate about. For the right guy. For a place to call Home. Four years, and I still feel like I’m waiting.
Not from nothing to something, but something to something.
And yet, amidst all the disappointment and pain and rejection of the past four years, I have memories that shine like the stars. Quiet moments with friends and family. My first paycheck as a freelance editor. A first kiss that was worth waiting twenty-seven years for. Sunsets on the Isle of Skye. These memories are not nothing, and I hold fast to them as I sail from moment to moment, like the ancient sailors who once held fast to the constellations amidst the darkness of the sea and the sky. Perhaps then, if the stars keep shining in the quiet moments and little triumphs, there is still room for Hope in my life after all.
A moment from something to something.
We often think of peace as the absence of war: a moment of tranquility after the battle, like the Christmas truce of 1914 or the days immediately following the breakup of the Soviet Union. But I think it’s more complicated than that. I don’t think peace is as simple as the absence of war.
In the 1998 Japanese animated film Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, an insurrection threatens to destroy the fragile peace that humankind has settled into after a long and bloody war. In the climax of the film, Relena Darlian, a lifelong pacifist and former figurehead in the previous conflict, admits to herself that she has been running from the truth. She calls on the people of Earth to resist the insurrection and to defend the peace her companions fought so hard to win. “What’s needed now is not a principle or assertion,” she tells the leader of the insurrection, “but the hearts that hope for peace.” Relena realizes that soldiers may have won the war, but without a nation of people willing to lay down their lives to preserve the peace, all the sacrifices of the past will have been for nothing.
The citizens of Earth respond to Relena’s call and rise up in nonviolent protest against the insurrection. As the film ends, it is people—everyday citizens, not soldiers—who save the day. Peace, then, is an obligation for every person to uphold, not a prize to be won at the end of a war.
In Creating True Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh writes how peace between nations is impossible so long as individuals choose to nurture the seeds of hatred and fear in their heart. Hanh writes: “The only way out of violence and conflict is for us to embrace the practice of peace, to think and act with compassion, love, and understanding.” In other words, peace is a choice that one must make every day of one’s life. Only by acting with kindness, sympathy, appreciation, and love can hatred be quenched and fear conquered.
Peace, then, is a verb, not a noun—it’s something we do, not something we hope to obtain.
But how can this worldview of nonviolence and compassion hope to stand up against a group like ISIS, which does not in any way seem to value human life? How can one talk of love and understanding when politicians shout from their soapboxes about building walls and going to battle? What actions can be taken to sow seeds of peace when prayers alone are not enough?
I don’t have an answer. Not yet. I’m still waiting.
But in that waiting, there is something.
My ideals of peace seem insufficient, if not downright laughable in the face of our world’s current crises. Yet still, I cling to them. And I wait.
Peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, but my peace I give to you.
God’s peace is not our peace. It is neither the truce won by soldiers nor the peace done in our actions. And as Mary sang so long ago, “You have cast the mighty down from their thrones and uplifted the humble of heart.” God has done these things. O Wisdom, O Master, O Root of Jessie, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O Ruler of Nations, O God Who is with Us, I have faith that thou shalt do these things yet again.
In Peace, I shall wait. With Hope, I shall wait. And as we enter the Third Week of Advent, as we move into the season of Joy, I shall sail by the light in the darkness.
A light shines in the darkness. And the darkness cannot comprehend it.
Living in Hope: Advent Meditations from the writings of Henri Nouwen
Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz
Creating True Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
“The Magnificat” from Holden Evening Prayer by Marty Haugen