The Scriptures teach us how to wait—and who we’re waiting for
A pastor watches all sorts of people perform the most human of activities: waiting. When I first began unlocking the church, I was surprised to find Kirk, our weekday sacristan, waiting outside in his S.U.V. “My, but the day starts promptly around here!” I said to Coco Chanel, my Chihuahua. “We’re going to have to get up earlier.” She ignored me. Coco rises much like I imagine Queen Victoria once did: very slowly, rather grandly and requiring a great deal of attention. I have learned to wait.
We did, however, manage to improve. That’s when I discovered that Kirk likes to sit in his S.U.V. outside the church before he begins his duties. He still does it even when the church is already unlocked. I suspect that he listens to the radio, perhaps the lone person in our Midwestern town hoping to hear good news of his New England Patriots.
A pastor watches all sorts of people perform the most human of activities: waiting.
At the other end of the block, Coco and I pass the parochial school. It is still quite dark outside. Students won’t begin to arrive for another hour, but the classroom lights of Marlene, our principal, are burning brightly. For those who work, waiting is never idleness. If anything, the time of waiting, of preparation, passes all too quickly.
A pastor watches all sorts of people as they wait. I find it particularly challenging at nursing homes. All that time! If I could not read, would I watch endless television? Sleep? Would I be healthy enough to take part in the activities and crafts? For the most part, these folk are literally waiting upon the Lord. It is the most important wait of their long lives. I urge them to give themselves over to prayer, for themselves and for others, in preparation for what will come.
The waiting we do in life is like a merry-go-round. It starts ever so slowly but it never slows. The older one grows, the faster time moves. Perhaps that is a blessing for those in nursing homes. And I am old enough myself to feel what Kitty Carlyle once reported: that I seem to eat breakfast every 15 minutes. At the beginning of life, waiting is a burden. By the time the merry-go-rounds ends, it’s a blessing. Then we think of time as the most precious of all things.
The waiting we do in life is like a merry-go-round. It starts ever so slowly but it never slows.
When I have lunch with the school children, everything about waiting is distorted by their vast vistas of time. School days are long; weekends and vacations stretch far beyond the spans that adults experience; yet the little ones can speak of their birthdays, six months away, as though they were occurring the next day. Perhaps if you are waiting for everything in life, it all flattens out a bit.
We cannot help but to wait in life because to be human is to project ourselves into the future, in a way that no other creature does. Animals do not wait as we do because they do not see the future coming as we do. Our minds allow us to envision the future, a source of both delight and dread. Indeed, we grapple with the future as much as we do the present. That is the very nature of waiting.
Though often, when I am praying alone in front of the Blessed Sacrament, disparate moments of time merge with one another. The Disney movies I watched as a child, the books that inspired me as a young man and those whom I have loved and lost—they reenter or at least hover near the edge of consciousness. Neither the past nor the future seems all that far away, and I hear the Lord say: “Rest here. Be in this juncture, this moment unmoved by time.
The Scriptures teach us that the God who is coming is the God who is already here.
The Gospel calls us to surrender our waiting to God. How do we do that? First, we learn from the Scriptures what it is—among all that the future brings—that we await: the action of God. God will come to Nineveh in judgement and in justice. God will enter the lives of the disciples at the moment and in the manner that God determines. God will act in our lives. Indeed Psalm 130 describes discipleship as a waiting.
I wait for the Lord,
my soul waits
and I hope for his word.
My soul looks for the Lord
more than sentinels for daybreak (5-6).
As we wait, we strive to remember upon whom we wait, upon one who is mighty in power and mighty in love.
The Scriptures also teach us that the God who is coming is the God who is already here. We do not wait passively. Each moment has its meaning, its purpose. If it was not needed, God would never have granted it.
What Catholic could estimate how many times he or she has uttered the words “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” I once thought that the ending of the Hail Mary was too reductive. It seemed simply to say, I need you now because I will need you then. It did not make much of all that comes between. But now I find that it expresses a wisdom, which is needed for waiting. As we wait, we pray God to our side so that when God comes he will have made us ready.
Waiting enters life with consciousness. We often grow weary of it; we find it a burden. But as a graced life closes, waiting wanes ever so quickly. At the end, all that will have mattered is that we have lived our lives in such a way that in the final moment of life our last, desperate prayer is not “Wait!”