What are you waiting for?

Advent is the liturgical season of vigilance or, to put it more mundanely, of waiting. During the four weeks prior to Christmas, we light the candles of our Advent wreaths and put ourselves in the spiritual space of the Israelite people who, through many long centuries, waited for the coming of the Messiah.

In the wonderful avant-garde German movie Run Lola Run a young woman finds herself in a terrible bind: She needs to gather an enormous amount of money in a ridiculously short period of time. Throughout the movie she runs and runs, desperately trying through her own frantic efforts to make things right, but nothing works. Finally, at the moment when she finds herself at the absolute limit of her powers, she slows to a trot, looks up to heaven and says, “Ich warte, ich warte” (I’m waiting, I’m waiting). Though she does not explicitly address God and though there has been no hint throughout the movie that Lola is the least bit religious, this is undoubtedly a prayer. And in the immediate wake of her edgy request a rather improbable solution to her problem presents itself.

Lola’s prayer has always reminded me of Simone Weil, that wonderful and mysterious 20th-century French mystic whose entire spirituality is predicated upon the power of waiting, or—in her language—of expectation. In prayer, Weil taught, we open our souls, expecting God to act even when the content of that expectation remains unclear. In their curious vigilance and hoping against hope, both Lola and Simone are beautiful Advent figures. Read More