BY MICHAEL DOWNS | December 16, 2016
A dear colleague and coach at a Jesuit high school once told me that waiting for God is like being a running back in a football game who just received a hand-off from the quarterback: as you patiently watch for a hole to open in the offensive line, you don’t stand back on your heels. You must keep your feet active, so when the opportunity presents itself, you are ready to move into and through the challenge at hand. The worthy waiter is active and attentive, not passive and distracted.
This Advent season comes in the wake of the recent election cycle and other events which left my perceptive young children, not to mention my high school students, stunned and troubled. I am trying to discern the balance between waiting patiently, and staying active; between trusting in my faith, and still fighting the good fight.
My kids’ obsessive anticipation of the gifts Christmas morning was transformed into “active waiting,” thanks to an Advent gift from my parents. In an envelope (mailed from the North Pole) are slips of paper, each of which contains a compassion mission: random acts of daily kindness, appropriate for my little ones’ abilities. Baking cookies for neighbors, writing notes to each other, and filling a bag of groceries for a local food bank are just a few ways my children have been more attentive to what they can give this Advent season, and less preoccupied with waiting for what they will get on Christmas morning.
Meanwhile, my high school students are “actively waiting” for by studying for their semester exams, not just for a grade, but to sharpen their analytical and critical skills in anticipation of a new presidential administration, and in service of peace and justice. They have reminded my colleagues and me that their future isn’t helped by teachers and parents who are paralyzed by disappointment, idle in the face of partisan division, frozen by fear of the ball that has been handed to us. These students staged a thoughtful walk-out and rally the day after the presidential election, and have kept taking small but intentional steps forward ever since.
Inspired by my children and students, I am trying to keep my feet active, as well as my faith. A faith that invites me to trust in the “slow work of God,” but with a sense of waiting characterized more by hopeful work (what can we do for others now?) than futile worry (what will happen next?).
How do you, in your roles as parents and professionals and prophets, wait and trust in the “slow work of God,” while also staying engaged and active?
Michael Downs serves as director of justice and kinship at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland. He is also a member of the California Catholic Conference’s Environmental Stewardship Committee and the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform Working Group.