“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
(T.S. Eliot, East Coker)
In the heady ‘80s, adverts for Access credit cards had the slogan, ‘take the waiting out of wanting’. Three decades on, ‘waiting’ is, for many people, almost an alien concept, ‘credit’ seems, unbelievably, to have survived the tumultuous events of the last couple of years as a currency in its own right, and ‘wanting’ is what economies like ours are still apparently relying on to give them ‘health’. Our society needs us and values us, still, by our ability to want, and buy, and consume – and instils in us both a ‘need’ for instant satisfaction, but also a rapid dis-satisfaction and a need for ‘more, more, more…’.
So T.S. Eliot is on to something: “wait without hope / For hope would be hope for the wrong thing”. Our desires need a health check – or even a revolution. And for that to happen, we need to learn to wait.
I say ‘we’. Those who have least money already know what it means to wait. Waiting for the bus, when the service is infrequent, unreliable – an ‘out-of-control-ness’ that those of us with cars can avoid, if we choose. Waiting for pay-day, in those last few days when the meter’s on ‘emergency’ and there’s no food left in the cupboard and there are bills that need paying. And others too – waiting for that operation that will make life more liveable; waiting for the death that is around the corner, but God knows when; waiting for the birth, the due date circled in red on the calendar. Some of us are schooled in waiting, in some places, at some times. But many of us are captive to that need – to ‘take the waiting out of wanting’…
So the questions that ‘Advent waiting’ asks us… What are the things we “can’t wait” for? Where does impatience run our lives? What are the ‘wants’ (we might often call them ‘needs’, even) that we need to painstakingly strip away, distance ourselves from, begin to say ‘No’ to? And how might we do so, as individuals, as households, as churches?
The clamouring voices and images around us, says poet Jan Richardson, “will never tell us what we really want, what we really long for, what we desire with heart and soul. Those who have sat in the darkness know how the shadows give way to desire. Without sight, without our heads swimming with the images of what others tell us we want, we can turn our gaze inward and search our souls.”
And Richardson invites us to ‘plumb the depths of our waiting… “What speaks to us? What calls to us? What dreams have we buried? What wounds cry out for healing? What longs to be born in us this season? What is the yearning which we have not dared to name? Our desires reveal to us what we think about God, about ourselves, and about the world.
“In her remarkable book of prayers entitled All Desires Known, Janet Morley writes, ‘I understand the Christian life to be about the integration of desire: our personal desires, our political vision, and our longing for God. So far from being separate or in competition with one another, I believe that our deepest desires ultimately spring from the same source.’ Advent offers the opportunity to explore that source, to discern our desires and to find their common ground.”
As we learn to wait, what are the things we discover, deep down, that we really long for? And how, practically, might we begin to ‘inhabit’ those desires, dwell in them, and live out of them?
Or, as another poet, Carola Moosbach, puts it…
are we really waiting for
and what are the things
we need more
should there be a beginning
still hopes at all
will it break
still believes in it?