Three Kinds of Waiting
When I was a little boy, I would sometimes ride with my father to his shop. To get there we had to cross the Neponset River on the road from Boston to Quincy.
A large, busy old bridge. Often enough I would see a woman standing at one end of the bridge watching traffic coming out of Boston, looking into each car. I asked my father one day, "what is she waiting for?" He told me, "She's waiting for her son to come back from the war." The war was long over and we were into the 1920's, but she was still waiting. Her mind must have snapped. To a child it seemed a wrenching sadness. --That's one kind of waiting.
Along the coast of New England, in fishing towns and villages, sea captains in the days of the clipper ships, built big homes. Often enough, on the roof would be a glassed-in cupola, or a small railed veranda or walk called "The widow's peak" or "widow's walk". There the wife of the captain would watch her husband sail off to sea, and there would watch for his return when she got word that he was about due after being so long gone. --That's another kind of waiting.
Here's a poem by R.S. Thomas called "The Coming":
--That's a third kind of waiting. The one we're into.And God held in His hand
A small globe. "Look", He said.
The Son looked. Far off,
As though through water, He saw
A scorched land of fierce
Color. The light burned
There, crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, a river,
Uncoiled itself, radiant
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. And many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The Son watched
"Let Me go there," He said."1
The first kind is futile. Done for love, but done in vain. The watched-for son does not exist. There are those who wait and who wait in vain. For something not real.
The second kind is a waiting that may end happily and may not. The captain and his ship may have gone down off South America months ago. Gone for months, even years, he may yet return and come into view, a passing vessel having brought word of his soon arriving. It is a waiting that may end in heart-break, may end in rejoicing.
It is the third kind of waiting we are concerned with. As in the poem, our waiting involves past and present and what is to come. For He has come, He is coming, He will come again. All mixed together. We wait for One Who has already arrived. We exult in His presence. We dream of His return, for He will come again.
This is a relationship to reality that is quite other. This is unique. Here is mystery and thus a dealing with the mystic dimension of reality. Here we can contradict what passes for common sense and yet pass beyond sense to a deeper reality.
How healthy and nurturing such a waiting, such an entry into the wide world of time meeting eternity. And it is because we are immortal that such leaps of faith are so sound and so empowering. Through the pondering of such wild ventures we touch the deepest dimensions of our humanity and awaken to the world of time and eternity, earth and Heaven.
While some might dismiss our ventures as a trip into fantasy, we would insist that on the contrary, we refuse to live in an unreal world that can see and believe only what's in front of it, what makes sense, what adds up.
And besides, we are rooted in history. He who fulfilled the promises: born of a woman, in Bethlehem of Judah, in the reign of Herod; suffered, died, and was buried, when Pontius Pilate was governor.
We are no distraught woman checking the Boston traffic coming over a bridge for her son returning from war. Nor, are we some lonely sea-captain's wife, patiently scanning the horizon for sight of her man's ship coming into view far out to sea.
Rather, we await the promised One, Whose three comings we are witness to: His coming in time, His coming to each of us, His coming at the end in the glory of the new earth, the new Heaven.
Adveniat regnum tuum! Thy Kingdom come!
Come, Lord Jesus!. Amen.
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1. Poems of R.S. Thomas (Fayettesville: University of Arkansas Press, 1983).