The Waiting Room

Thought and prayer can redeem our endless waiting


Faith Philosophy

The philosopher Simone Weil’s Waiting on God (1950) is a haunting reflection on the distance between “the everyday” and the transcendent. A year earlier the playwright Samuel Beckett finished his Waiting for Godot. Beckett’s “Godot” is a fantasist’s inkblot: interpret him as you please. Not so the God to whom Weil learned to pray. In 1938 she had a mystical experience and of it she said, “Christ came down and took me.”

Most of us have few, if any, mystical experiences to report. But all of us, I’ll wager, have lots of everyday waiting experiences.

Millennials are adept at making people wait. “Hold on” is their mantra. “Hold on and wait,” to be specific.

Along with the rest of us, millennials contend with “structural waits.” We spend half of a life (or so it seems) at the local Social Security Office. That leaves the other half for the Department of Motor Vehicles. Of course, it’s not like we don’t hurry to beat the crowd. But so does the crowd, so now it’s “Hurry up and wait.”

Structural waits lead to our wishing we were elsewhere. Come to think of it, I spent a good deal of my time growing up waiting until I could finally do this or become that. Wisely, my mother told me, more than once, “Don’t wish your life away.”

Later I was taught the Latin adage “Age quod agis,” that is, “Do what you are doing.” It’s a handy adage, but like its familiar descendent “Just do it!” it raises a critical question: “What are you doing (or about to do)?”

Several weeks ago, Fr. Jim Schall, SJ, returned—for the last time—from the hospital to the infirmary at the Jesuit Center at Los Gatos, California. On that occasion, I recall, someone said that he was back “in the waiting room.” And so he was, for the last time. Now, though, we have every reason to think that he waits no more.

In the meantime, most of us find ourselves, more often than we’d like, in various waiting rooms. Last week I was so situated, waiting for my wife who was having an unpleasantly thorough medical exam.

Today my daughter, probably a victim of fast food, is at the local Urgent Care. My wife is waiting with her. I’m staying home and waiting for some important phone calls.

Ah, well. Waiting is hard. But there are two neglected ways to make it count for far more than it usually does.

First, there’s a philosophical way. As we wait, we might well think of the millions of other people who are waiting and how very tedious their waiting is. Thinking about these millions, experiencing in their millions of ways the tedium we share with them, serves to make them real to us. We come to have a kind of intuition of their being. It’s a being every bit as real as ours. With this intuition, even if it is fleeting, we can see, if obscurely, beyond “the everyday” to the eternal.

Doing so prepares us for a Christ-centered way to make our waiting count. The Book of Revelation, with which Scripture ends, closes with an exchange between Jesus and its author.  “The One who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Maranatha, Lord Jesus. It’s a prayer that redeems the day.


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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