A reflection on Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren. Chapter Eight: Sitting in Traffic
I recently finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo, an insanely long, intricately plotted tome of a book swelling with revenge and pain, drama and swashbuckling, unexpected softness and love. If I had to tell you the theme of the eleven-hundred-some-odd pages, it would be the three words Edmond Dantes (aka the count) speaks, as the story comes to a close, to encourage the young man he loves as a son: “Wait and hope.”
Tish echoes this in describing how the liturgical calendar shapes her life. “I practice year after year,” she writes, “waiting and hoping” (108).
I think maybe this is the theme of our lives, period. Right? So much more of our time is spent in the waiting than in the… wait, what else is it that we do?
A few years ago, while visiting Southern California in the wake of treatment for ovarian cancer, I went to church with my aunt and cousin. I was not in a great place. Tired, and tired of being tired, and tired of waiting for this whole thing to be over. (By the way, this “whole thing” is never over; this whole waiting thing… this is life.) That morning at church, my aunt asked her friend, Peter, to pray for me. Among other scriptures, Peter prayed Isaiah 40:31: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint.”
Waiting doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. Tish writes, “God is at work in and through us as we wait. Our waiting is active and purposeful… a fallow field is never dormant. As dirt sits waiting for things to be planted and grown, there is work being done invisibly and silently…leaven[ing] the soil, making it richer and better” (111).
We must wait, for in the waiting our strength is renewed. Over and over again.
One day, in the very thick of it, my therapist said to me, enigmatic smile and single lifted eyebrow, “So, you’re telling me you want things to hurry up and get meaningful?” “Yes!” I said laughing and crying at the same time. “Is that so wrong?”
Twenty-some years ago, I read a vignette written by a Buddhist teacher; it has stuck with me year after year after year. (I believe it was Thich Nhat Hanh in a tiny little volume called Being Peace.) He said, when we get frustrated and harried – perhaps when we’re stuck in traffic, it is good to remind ourselves of this: “I am exactly where I need to be.”
I practice this in meditation. From the time I close my eyes till the time I hear the ending chime, I practice the understanding that, yes, I am exactly where I need to be. I don’t need to feel rushed because it won’t speed up the timer and I am exactly where I need to be. I don’t need to worry about the next thing in my day because I am exactly where I need to be.
Side note: it is impossible to say that sentence too many times.
Waiting is an end in itself. There is action in the waiting. Anticipation. Preparation. Tish writes, “We are oriented to our future hope, yet we do not try to escape from our present reality, from the real and present brokenness and suffering in the world” (112). We must wait with attention and intention toward the, often overwhelming, reality of things.
There is no escape from it. But, the meditation helps.
I think that’s the end of this post. Oh, were you waiting for me to get to the point?
As Tish quotes her friend Jan, “I was waiting for the gift. But I’ve come to see that the waiting is the gift” (emphasis added).