Why are we waiting? So we would sing in various situations: eating irons at the ready or expecting the delayed film to start. Waiting. I recently spent a week away on retreat. It was a very strange experience, on my own and speaking to few, and then only briefly, for the best part of five days. My life is, normally, a rush from one meeting or event to another with barely a pause in between and waiting is then, often, an inconvenience.

I try to build little active “waitings”, if that makes any sense at all, into my days. For example I regularly take photographs from the front of my house, it’s a focussed waiting (if you’ll pardon the pun).

If I haven’t my camera with me and notice something I try to pause awhile remembering those words of Walter de la Mere from my childhood: “Look thy last on all things lovely, every hour.

WHEN I lie where shades of darkness
Shall no more assail mine eyes,
Nor the rain make lamentation
When the wind sighs;
How will fare the world whose wonder
Was the very proof of me?
Memory fades, must the remember’d
Perishing be?
Oh, when this my dust surrenders
Hand, foot, lip, to dust again,
May these loved and loving faces
Please other men!
May the rusting harvest hedgerow
Still the traveller’s Joy entwine,
And as happy children gather
Posies once mine.
Look thy last on all things lovely,
Every hour. Let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
Till to delight
Thou have paid thy utmost blessing;
Since that all things thou wouldst praise
Beauty took from those who loved them
In other days.

Looking our last requires more of us than giving things a cursory glance, but so often “circumstances” dictate our swift passing by with barely a sideways glance. But at what cost? What do we lose by our inability or unwillingness to wait, to pause meaningfully? As William Henry Davies had it:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

I suppose many of us, in our hearts at least, know the truth of Davies’ words but even so, waiting doesn’t always come easy, involuntary waiting can be an inconvenience and voluntary waiting might need to be worked at.

For those of us who are connected with the Church, the Church calendar can sometimes help as it takes to various times of waiting. Lent is another, but now we come to the season of Advent. Both Lent and Advent are times of preparation but we might also see them as waiting times, times when we recognise that a time or season is ahead of us, (Easter or Christmas, respectively) and that the season will come in its own time, that we cannot bring it closer by our own efforts.

Commerce, of course, affects our waiting time. With Christmas barely over each year the Easter eggs appear in the shops and with the summer barely begun, it seems that Christmas fare begins to fill the shelves of our supermarkets while before long Christmas jingles fill our ears.

It’s easy to become caught up in the rush towards Christmas, and while there can be joy in anticipation and preparation, and pleasure too in the social and community events that the season brings: dinners, parties, the switching on of village and town lights and so on I still sometimes feel that I want to shout: wait! Hold on! Let’s enjoy the build up as a preparation and not get to the stage that so many seem to where Boxing Day comes as an enormous anti-climax – even as a relief – and the tree and decorations are taken down, and it’s all over bar the length of tinsel found down the back of the sofa in April.

Might there be some benefit in holding back, restraining ourselves, taking time to look, to consider, to see beyond what a mere glance reveals? For some religious people, the more mystical among us, perhaps, and for some who have no truck with institutional religion but still have a sense of the Divine, it may be as Ralph Waldo Emerson suggests: “Nature is too thin a screen; the glory of the omnipresent God bursts through everywhere.

The Celts knew something of this in the idea of the thin place; something I mused on in these words written in memory of a departed and dear soul:

The thin place – where earth and heaven meet, where present and potential know the one space, the one time, the one reality. The ultimate, the essence, all that was and is and yet might be lies close, close as skin, close as breath, and is spied in the eye’s corner. The thin place: where sea and sky, where land and cloud conjoin; the wild or the lonely place; where the land juts long into the sea, where the ocean steals the land away to hold it apart. The thin place, where the high land reaches from the plain to the sun and stars above; where water speaks of birth or desert of dying. The thin place, where, for some, blessed, the veil is drawn aside, where blessed, eyes see truly and hearts know fully, and, blessed, peace comes as gift. Blessed, blessed and thrice blessed are those for whom the veil is drawn aside; blessed, blessed and thrice blessed to have known the touch of God. (Written in memory of Muriel, June 2008)

Such intimations of the Divine, the Other, however we want to describe the indescribable, are not confined to nature for many of us but are to be found also in all or any of life’s experiences as these words entitled Circles of Grace suggest (if anyone knows the author, please let me know) :

“Holy One:
We live at mystery’s edge,
Watching for a startling luminescence
Or a word to guide us.
In fragile occurrences
You present yourself
And we must pause to meet you.
Daily, there are glimmers,
Reflections of a seamless mercy
Revealed in common intricacies.
These circles of grace
Spill out around us
And announce that we are part of you.”

To know such experiences seems to demand from us an ability and willingness to pause, to wait, to be mindful and I love the thought contained in A Celtic Rune of Hospitality that we might make that possible for others:

“I saw a stranger today. I put food for him in the eating-place and drink in the drinking-place and music in the listening-place. In the holy name of the Trinity he blessed me and my family. And the lark said in her warble, “Often, often, often, goes Christ in the stranger’s guise.”

Music in the listening place: we are more than mere flesh and blood, we are possessed of more than mere physical appetites, and the possibility of Christ in the stranger’s guise suggests for Christians at least that those intimations of the Divine, of the Other, of God, may be waiting for us in often unexpected places. For those not of that faith, it may yet be that there is that beyond the material and immediately visible that they would not, perhaps, call God and yet which is of a richness and depth that is beyond the ordinary.

Advent: a reminder as we wait for Christmas to come – it’s not until the 25th no matter how many carols we sing or mince pies we eat – that it might just be worth pausing now and then in the busy-ness of life, to stand and stare, to look outwards, upwards, inwards. So we might have that opportunity, religious, mystical or otherwise:

“To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.” William Blake

As we travel on through Advent and towards Christmas, I wish you well, and ask a blessing on you and I leave you with this song I wrote a few years back that looks at some journeying and waiting in the Bible and reflects on the divine presence in both.

Abram went, heard God had called him,
Left familiar land and ways;
Travelled on where life would lead him,
Finding God throughout his days.
God in waiting, God in going,
God in living out our days:
Calling all to new beginnings,
Found in travelling new ways.
Moses went into the desert;
Brought his people liberty,
Sought the face of God wherever
Travel meant that he would be.
God in waiting, God in going,
God in living out our day:
On our way your life discerning
In our work, our rest and play.
In the wilderness went Jesus
All alone, yet God was near;
Wrestled with his hesitations
‘Til he found his way was clear.
God in waiting, God in going,
God in living out our days:
In our minds, your will deciding;
In our hearts, your love and way.
God calls us upon a journey,
Day by day and year by year:
“Leave the old and grasp what’s freely
Giv’n by grace and for you here.”
We respond with faith and, trusting,
Make our way, in hope or fear,
To discern that in our trav’lling
All of God is always near.

© Julyan Drew, 2003

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