Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God
To speak; the air of a staircase
For silence; the sun’s light
Ringing me, as though I acted
A great role. And the audiences
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.
Prompt me, God;
But not yet. When I speak,
Though it be you who speak
Through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.
I’ve been thinking in recent weeks about our capacity to wait and be still. And this Gospel reading in Matthew about the bridesmaids and Jesus’ injunction to keep awake because you do not know when….(Matt 25:1-13) has brought this into perspective.
In our world today, we are used to the fast-paced action of life and living, the immediacy of decisions that are required by those around us, the demands of our instant communications mean we are never disconnected or out of touch. We are expected to respond quickly and it has fed a sense of things needing to be done now; of desires that can be met now; of words that need to be spoken now!
Waiting is not something we do easily anymore, and the way our world works nowadays means we don’t have to wait to get what we want. Our all-consuming and consumer-driven world is designed to meet our needs now and not have to pay attention to the unintended consequences.
Instant credit delivers instant gratification. No need to wait.
The inability to wait, often brings with it the inability to be fully and joyfully present ‘now.’ Instead we look back constantly to better times we used to know, and forward to better times we hope may be coming and our disappointment at the event, its presentation and completion, the arrival then not being as good as we had hoped is reflected in the amount of time we have not spent being present in the waiting.
Our capacity to wait and be still is not good. And yet, waiting in the present requires stillness and acceptance of the here and now. Waiting offers enormous peace.
Waiting in the present, asks us to wait in a way that rests not on frustration but in stillness; not in frenzied anticipation but in an embracing of the present. Not in fear, but with joy and hope.
However, I think we need to relearn how to wait, to rediscover the art of enjoying the future as it arrives; of consistently staying in the present and of finding meaning in the waiting.
Waiting is not just about passing time with impatience and strong awareness of unmet greed, driven between expectation and completion, but it has a value in and of itself.
Waiting offers a nurturing time, it can be an extraordinarily creative time; giving us time to learn to appreciate the event when it does come.
Being present in the waiting, means we can be present in the event. Our waiting can be held safely and lovingly in the indrawn breath and the breathing out breath. The fulfilment of what we wait for, can include a sense of loss as the waiting and the anticipation and the living in the waiting, with the stillness and presence are forgotten in the arrival.
In our faith, we wait in the present for the past as part of the future. We say at each Communion: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Part of the purpose of waiting, in listening deeply for the sounds of arrival, the re-telling over and over again of what to look for, is to train ourselves to recognise what it is, so when it happens again, this time we’ll recognise it, notice it, understand it and not miss the signals when they come or those signals already around us.
The Hebrew word for ‘wait’, ‘I wait for your salvation O Lord’, has the additional meaning of looking eagerly, lying in wait for, looking out. We wait, we wait, we wait. But are we ready?
And what does it mean to be ready and prepared for Jesus’ return? To trust in this return is as difficult for us today as it was for people in the first century – we are all in Jesus’ time.
There is a challenge to waiting both preparedly and expectantly, with the belief that something and someone is actually coming.
And, in spite of the temptation to become cynical, it is possible to discover something genuine and sacred about waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promise.
For its citizens, for us as disciples, the coming kingdom of God requires and creates, a new orientation to the world around us and a new way of being in it.
Waiting with expectation and preparation will not magically open up some locked doors to a walled off palace, but it will grow steadily in us as disciples, a growing openness to the coming kingdom of God.
Waiting with true anticipation for the kingdom to come, in turn, brings into focus the traces of the kingdom already around us, because as Jesus has said, ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near’ (10:7). The faithful find the courage with God’s Grace to live as if the kingdom has already arrived, loving radically and fearlessly.
As individuals and communities become attuned to the signs of the kingdom, they become increasingly able to participate in its coming by living according to its ways. The prophecy awakens in its hearing
The mistake of the unwise bridesmaids is not that they fail to believe the bridegroom is returning. If they had not believed, they would not have gone to meet him in the first place. Neither is it because they fell asleep, for the wise and the foolish both did so,
Rather, the mistake of the foolish is to fail to invest in what will prepare them to see God’s kingdom when it comes.
One thing is clear, what is required in this time of waiting is an awakening of all the senses to what God is doing and promises to do in the world.
Faithful living involves embracing the countercultural instructions of the Beatitudes as being salt and light in the world (5:2-16); living by the heart of the law instead of its legalistic fringe (5:17-37); breaking the spiral of violence by loving our enemies and showing mercy (5:38-48); and practicing inward devotion over and against outward piety (6:1-18).
The way of faith, the way of waiting is characterised by trusting in God’s provision, anxious for nothing (6:25-34), replacing judgements with graciousness (7:1-6), and trusting God fully to provide for our needs (7:7-11).
Waiting allows us to hold steady in the face of disaster and challenges. Waiting allows us to be alert to those around us who need our help. Our friends lost a daughter to cancer; and overwhelmed with grief their faith seemed slender and unable to bear the burden of loss.
They kept going to church, but said: ‘we couldn’t sing.’ They kept going, Sunday after Sunday, and they said; ‘we let others sing for us and we listened and waited until we could sing again’. Our gift of waiting is a gift from God for us to be present in, to God and to our neighbours.
We live in in-between times and so must accept the nature of the world as it is now, but we can also grasp hold of God’s possibility for the world.
The glimmers of God’s glory we see, simply exist to strengthen our resolve to increase those glimmers, to strive to make God’s kingdom more present on earth every day.
Waiting for the future involves a recognition of what the world might be and the resolve to bring our own part of it one step closer. Always, our waiting is active, as waiting for the future involves transforming the present.
Let me finish with another poem, this time by Denise Levertov: The Avowal [The Stream and the Sapphire (1997:6)]
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
Sisters and Brothers in Christ, please let us fall together into the stillness of waiting with God and for God’s kingdom.
The Lord be with you.