In his sermon this morning, Andrew spoke about expectations with reference to the appointment of the new Dean. We tend to hope that the new person will come in and sort out all our issues and weaknesses and lead us forward to success and the promised land. Andrew warned us that this won’t happen. I can confirm that it doesn’t happen in the civil service either, and it doesn’t happen when a new government is elected (I’m thinking of 1997 here; my expectations of 2010 have sadly been met and more). My memory of his sermon gets pretty hazy here, but Andrew may well have said something along the lines that God works in the unexpected, never more than in the Incarnation.
In the discussion afterwards, one of the congregation who is a teacher said that expectation can be good; having high expectations of students can lead them to do better. People in general tend to live up to or down to expectations. The problem is when the expectations are unrealistic.
I remembered something I have learnt during the last few months of centring prayer. Previously, I thought of contemplative prayer as waiting in expectation for God, and remember reading of intercessory prayer that we should always ask in expectation that God will answer. Well yes. But the American Cisterican monk Thomas Keating teaches in Open Mind, Open Heart: “Have no expectation in [centring] prayer. It’s an exercise of effortlessness, of letting go. To try is a thought [that is, a distraction]… To struggle is to want to achieve something. That is to aim at the future, whereas this method of prayer is designed to bring you into the present moment. Expectations also refer to the future; hence they, too, are thoughts.”
So rather than living in expectation and the future, I more than anything need to live in openness and the present moment. It was written for use at Easter, but this prayer by Janet Morley seems apposite this Advent too: “O unfamiliar God, we seek you in the places you have already left and fail to see you even when you stand before us. Grant us so to recognise your strangeness that we need not cling to our familiar grief, but may be freed to proclaim resurrection in the name of Christ. Amen.”