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 hope and the love 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
Eliot’s words on waiting, from The Four Quartets, capture well the spirit of Advent—and the struggle of its message in a culture which draws us into the season with constant pressures to get busy, get gifts bought and decorations hung, get relationships back in order, get our own moods upbeat and positive. All useful messages, yet all contrary to the meaning of Advent when we are instead urged to be still, to hold off on activity while we wait for clarity, to set aside expectations as they are likely to be too limited.
To wait typically means enduring a period of time when nothing much is happening, especially whatever we wanted to happen now rather than later. I wait my turn to check out of the store, I wait for my delayed flight to take off, I wait for someone who is late to arrive. Waiting means the particular timetable I envisioned—and believed to be best for me—will not be met. So I wait and either pace restlessly, roll my eyes in irritation, drum on the steering wheel, complain to some hapless clerk, or quickly make mental adjustments that will allow me to stay on schedule as much as possible. Waiting is just a pause, nothing more, in my important sequence of events.
But what if, as Eliot notes, the waiting itself were meaningful, the place and time where faith and hope and love are found, in the waiting rather than after the waiting has ended? How would I wait differently if I tried to believe that the waiting time had something important for me to experience?
This Advent season, which brings us the call to wait, offers the opportunity to test such a possibility. Instead of being frustrated by waiting, may we look more deeply at the waiting to discover the meaning it holds. Not the meaning which came before nor the meaning we expect to come after, but the faith, hope, and love that are hidden right inside the waiting itself.