Sunday, July 26, 2009


My mind drifted in church today, but not aimlessly. It was that lovely line from Milton - "They also serve who only stand and wait" - that drew my thoughts inward, though the line was not quoted nor the idea reflected in the sermon. I mused about this waiting that is service to God, this standing in place that is somehow a manifestation of love. And I considered how waiting is a state of action. We drum up the idea of lines that slowly snake forward, or time spent in a car stopped in traffic, or the expectation of words that a lover has not yet spoken. These things seem so passive because they are dependent on others to do something: those ahead of us must move forward in the line, cars that we cannot even see must continue their journeys so that we can continue ours, the lover must feel the force of the words spilling from his or her own heart.

We can do nothing to hurry these things along, but must accept that this is the moment, the situation, the experience in which we find ourselves, and we cannot force it to be what we want nor move it forward an inch faster. We must simply wait - with or without patience, in anticipation or despair, expecting great good to flow or destruction to rain down upon our heads - wait until the situation changes.

The active American take-charge go-getter mindset recoils at this waiting, this sense of dependency, this absolute though oft-unrecognized interbeing. We yell at people to keep the line moving, or slam on our horns, or try to beguile the lover into giving us the words we long to hear. And then, as though we had done nothing at all, we return to waiting, because there is nothing else to do.

But there is another kind of waiting, the kind we mean when we say that he waits tables or she waits on him hand and foot: waiting as active service, as responsiveness to need, as the giving of one's own time and activity so that another may rest and receive. When we wait in this way, we are still experiencing the fullness of interbeing, but now we are aware of it, indeed have chosen it. We wait because we believe that it will lead to something we value, be it a paycheck, the recuperation of a loved one, or an expression of thanks that marks how the other values us. It is waiting marked with purpose, waiting that takes the humanity of the other directly into account, even if we see that humanity as frail or cruel or oblivious to our service. It is waiting that in its finest moments springs directly from the well of compassion and love.

I want to be active in my passive waiting: I want to wait in service to others - to those I love and those I don't, to those who deserve it and those who merely need it - as I wait in stillness for the next droplet of truth to fall upon me and shatter the untruths that I hold so close. The droplets will fall, whether I will them or not; the untruths will shatter and scatter so thoroughly that I won't notice (at least for a while) that I have gathered armfuls of other untruths that are perhaps more subtle but just as untrue. I want my service to spring from compassion, although at times it seems to come rather from compulsion. But there is no question that I will wait: I will wait upon the Lord because there is nothing else I can do.

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