The Meaning is in the Waiting

If there’s one thing that activists resent being told, it’s to wait. “But we’re impatient for justice!” we say. “We can’t wait any longer! This needs to change now!”

It almost never changes ‘now’. And so, while we say we can’t wait any longer, we do. In fact, we spend most of our time waiting, because change is almost always incremental. And, sometimes, that incremental change is so slight that it seems like things are getting worse. One step forward, two steps back. One step forward, two steps back. One step –

In the Christian tradition, Advent is a time of waiting. And it’s a rehearsed time of waiting, because we go through the same process every year, waiting to celebrate the same promised event of sudden change. But why do we rehearse this waiting, and mark it out, and even pursue opportunities to reflect on waiting? Waiting – and being told to wait – so often seems to be the enemy of the social transformation we seek.

But, as any activist can tell you, waiting does not mean the end of action. In the same breath we say ‘we can’t wait any longer!’ and we also continue to push against the doors of resistance that prevent change. While we act, we wait, and vice versa. Waiting is not static. And this perseverance has its own beauty: a perseverance which is steadfast in the face of dragging feet and slow movers.

And waiting is a time to ask ourselves hard questions, to ready ourselves for the change that we so eagerly pursue. If the world did suddenly change to reflect my vision, would I be ready for it? Would my own attitudes and daily life fit the transformed society I’m calling for? As the semester comes to an end, and most of you are probably impatient for the prospect of just being able to rest, I invite you to reflect on this poem about hovering on the edge of transformation. We are all waiting for something. May we learn to wait well.


Moments of great calm,

Kneeling before an altar

Of wood in a stone church

In summer, waiting for the God

To speak; the air a staircase

For silence; the sun’s light

Ringing me, as though I acted

A great rôle. 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.

R. S. Thomas

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