“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so….”
—Thomas Merton, “A Prayer of Unknowing”
Patience isn’t my strength. I want to tear out every window in the Advent calendar and gobble up all the chocolate. I want to know how my children’s lives will turn out. I want justice to arrive, irrevocably, in the structures and hearts of this world.
But Advent slows me down. Wisdom whispers, “Just wait.” And sometimes wisdom speaks as a lava-hot pecan pie.
Other pies have their virtues, but none transfixes the soul like the winsome pecan. Waiting for it to bake is out-and-out agony. Mid-bake, you’ll be tempted to nibble a sample. But resist! It’ll burn your tongue off. Don’t ask how I know.
Even right out of the oven, it’s not ready. According to personal research, the pie enthusiast who leaps in at that moment will also observe dramatically unwanted tongue-specific sensations. No: a pie like pecan is going to need time to set. Not to “sit,” but to “set.” It’s a word bakers know. When a pecan pie sets, the gooey mess on the inside starts to get organized—not through external intervention, but through a strange and subtle emergent upwelling.
There have been times in my life when everything on the inside was a gooey mess. That’s been the case, more days than not, throughout this damn pandemic. Trying harder turned out not to be the solution. Neither did pretending I knew what to do. So on my better days, I’m trying to cut loose the hustle, hunker down into stillness, and to let myself “S.E.T.”: Surrender Everything Tenderly.
Tenderly, I surrender my pride and my shame. My need for approval. My need for control or to know what comes next. Even my certainty about pie and all those other opinions that clutter my brain. For me, “surrendering everything tenderly” brings an awareness of that strange and subtle emergent upwelling, which I’ve come to know as the action of grace. It’s a clarity and coherence that you can’t get from striving.
Advent is a time of “not yet” and “already,” when we impatiently await what is already here. Maybe this Advent season, with what you have wanted still so far away, one option could be to give up trying—which doesn’t mean to just wait. With pecan pie in mind, and any trust you can muster in the action of grace, why not set awhile?
Precious God, in this not-yet and already in-between time, teach us to risk trusting some measure of grace so that our lives might become all the more entwined with the way of all things, and the process of delivering love at last to this world. Amen.