Friday, January 16, 2009

The Sacrament of Waiting

The English poet John Milton once wrote that those also serve who only stand and wait. I think I would go further and say that those who wait render the highest form of service. Waiting requires more self-discipline, more self control and emotional maturity, more unshakable faith in our cause, more unwavering hope in the future, more sustaining love in our hearts than all the great deeds of derring-do that go by the name of action.

Waiting is a mystery, a natural sacrament of life. There is a meaning hidden in all the times we have to wait. It must be an important mystery because there is so much waiting in our lives.

Everyday is filled with those little moments of waiting, testing our patience and our enrves, schooling us in self control - pasensiya lang. We wait for meals to be served, for a letter to arrive, for a friend to call or show up for a date. We wait in line at cinemas, theaters, and concerts. Our airline terminals, railway stations, and bus depots are great temples of waiting filled with men and women who wait in joy for the arrival of a loved one, or wait in sadness to say goodbye and give the last wave of the hand. We wait for birthdays and vacations. We wait for Christmas. We wait for spring to come or autumn, for the rains to begin or to stop.

And we wait for ourselves to grow from childhood to maturity. We wait for those inner voice that tell us when we are ready for the next step. We wait for graduation, for our first job,our first promotion. We wait for success and recognition. We wait to grow up, to reach the stage where we make our own decisions.

We cannot remove this waiting from our lives. It is part of the tapestry of living, the fabric in which the threads are woven that tell the story of our lives.

Yet current philosophies would have us forget the need to wait. "Grab all the gusto you can get."So reads one of America's great beer advertisements: Get it now. Instant transcendence. Don't wait for anything. Life is short. Eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow you'll die. And so they rationalize us into accepting unlicensed and irresponsible freedom, pre-marital sex and extra-marital affairs. They warn against attachment and commitment, against expecting anything of anybody, or allowing them to expect anything of us. They warn us against vows and promises, against duty and responsibility, against dropping any anchors in the currents of our life that will cause us to hold and wait.

This may be the correct prescription for pleasure, but even that is fleeting and doubtful. What was it Shakespeare said about the mad pursuit of pleasure? "Past reason hunted, and once had, past reason hated." No, if we wish to be real human beings, spirit as well as flesh, soul as well as heart, we have to learn to wait. For if we never learn to wait, we'll never learn to love someone other than ourselves.

For, most of all, waiting means waiting for someone else. It is a mystery, brushing by our face everyday like a stray wind or a lead falling from tree. Anyone who has ever loved knows how much waiting goes into it. how much waiting is important for love to grow, to flourish through a lifetime.

Why is this? Why can't we have right now what we so desperately want and need? Why must we wait - two years, three years, fie years - and seemingly waste so much time? You might as well ask why a tree should take so long to bear fruit, the seed to flower, or for carbon to change into diamond.

There is no simple answer, no more than there is to life's other demands - having to say goodbye to someone you love because either you or they have already made other commitments, or because they have to grow and find the meaning of their own lives; having yourself to leave home and loved ones to find your own path. Goodbyes, like waiting, are also sacrament of our lives.

All we know is that growth - the budding, the flowering of love - needs patient waiting, We have to give each other time to grow. There is no way we can make someone else truly love us or we them, except through time. So we give each other the mysterious gift of waiting, of being present without making demands or asking rewards. There is nothing harder to do than this. It truly tests the depth and sincerity of our love. But there is life in the gift we give.

So lovers wait for each other until they can see things the same way or let each other freely see things in quite different ways. There are times when lovers hurt each other and cannot regain the balance and intimacy of the way they were. They have to wait - in silence - but still present to each other until the pain subsides to an ache, and then only a memory and the threads of tapestry can be woven together again ina single love story. What do we lose when we refuse to wait? When we try to find short cuts through life? When we try to incubate love and rush blindly and foolishly into a commitment we are neither mature nor responsible enough to assume? We lose the hope of ever truly loving or being loved. Think of all the great love stories of history and literature. Isn't it of their very essence that they are filled with this strange but common mystery, that waiting is part of the substance, the basic fabric, against which the story of that true love is written?

How can we ever find either life or true love if we are too impatient to wait for it?

from God's Crooked Lines by J.F. Donelan, S.J.