I had gone through a very difficult meeting and, feeling bruised and sorry, I sat in the back garden in Belgrano letting the sun warm me. Tommy, who was about three years old, stood watching from a distance and when he felt it was safe he approached and started chatting. I have no Spanish and he no English, so it was a childlike conversation that drew me out of myself.
He opened his little book to show me a picture of the Annunciation and I wished its joy would happen for me then. But it did not and I was not up to it.
Later in the evening I was praying the sorrowful mysteries when the Angelus bell rang and it struck me that I was experiencing a collision of sorrow with joy - that the joy of Annunciation was trying to break into my sorrow. And I chose to accept this strange mingling. It has happened many times since that, while praying the sorrowful mysteries, the Angelus bell rang. The Angel of the Lord is always declaring the Good News and we are asked to receive it.
When we come to the seasons of the Spirit we have expectations that our lives will match the season in its time - sorrow in Holy week, joy at Easter and Christmas - but it does not always work like that. Human life, life in the Spirit is not a neatly packaged thing.
The Holy Spirit who came upon Mary – and upon us - is a Spirit whose direction we cannot predict or control. Mary surrendered her life to the movement of the Spirit and as a result she entered into her time of expectancy.
The expectant mother does not know who her child will be and, even if today she can know the child's gender, she does not know what the child will look like or be like. And when the child is born she and her husband are surprised by joy. And as the child grows they are constantly surprised and amazed by the person emerging before their eyes.
What spoils the life of a child sometimes is that parents move from expectancy to expectation. They have expectations of what the child should become and sometimes push the child in the direction of their own expectations.
Expectations are narrow and defined and often harsh. We do it to each other all the time and when someone doesn't live up to our expectations of them we become disappointed, even angry.
Expectancy is open, always open to the surprises that emerge in life. The expectant person is one who waits and is open to the joy that can enter into sorrow, open to what God can do in any moment. Open to it, waiting for it and ready.
I wrote the following lines many years ago when I lived in Tanzania and it sums up for me a core aspect of being a Christian. In this Advent I wish you a blessed expectancy and the joy that is greater than all sorrow.
Across the field
to dawn at sea
a corner in the midday sun
beneath the sky at night
alone within his heart
the warrior waits for death
the watchman waits for dawn
to this have I been called
to wait on God
a moment forever
in expectancy of surprise.
Eamonn Monson sac
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