18 Apr What Are We Waiting For?
Easter came and went, and with it, Sunday service at church with my wife and family and the grandkids, and then a lovely day together where we bathed in that rare commodity – slow conversation on the front porch, and not much to do until the end of day. We weren’t waiting for anything. We were, as much as anyone can be, in the present tense. For that brief time, we were together, and we belonged in the moment.
I had forgotten about something my agent had re-tweeted a few days earlier: a clever cartoon about Samuel Beckett, the now departed absurdist playwright whose birthday landed on the Thursday before Good Friday. When Monday arrived I pulled up the tweet and reread it. Theater aficionados know Beckett as the author of Waiting for Godot, an existentialist play about two penniless tramps in an abstract wasteland who spend their time philosophizing, complaining about petty irritations, and contemplating suicide, all the while waiting for the arrival of a man who never arrives.
It set me thinking about the exercise of waiting. Beckett’s play, when it first opened in Miami, was greeted with almost universal ridicule and rejection: not a comedy, they said, not a tragedy and abjectly pointless. But following that, it was famously performed in San Quentin Prison before a host of muscle-bound tattooed prisoners with rap-sheets that would stagger the imagination; the world’s toughest audience. I recall reading a review of the play that had been written by one of the inmates. Lifers and convicts were able to get the play in a way that urbane theatergoers were not. They knew the feeling of hopelessness and isolation. It was the kind of angst that Beckett was aiming for. Dig down a bit, below the superficial things of life, he seemed to be saying, and you may find yourself sitting next to those two vagrants in Godot, twitching and squirming, and wondering what’s the use.
The multiplicity of entertainments and diversions of life may have the effect of buffering us away from, rather than drawing us into, those kinds of questions. One of Beckett’s characters’ says – “We wait … we are bored to death, there’s no denying it. Good. A diversion comes along and what do we do? We let it go to waste… In an instant, all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness!” What a powerful picture of waiting for something – anything – but having no hope that it will ever come to pass, or even if it does, that it will be worth the wait.
Contrast that with another pronouncement about waiting. Jesus tells his disciples a parable that strikes at the heart of the promise that he will reunite in the future with his followers: “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.” What an intriguing picture of waiting with hope, all about someone worth waiting for.
If waiting is pointless, and yet it is all that we have in this life in order to keep from going mad, then Samuel Beckett was right. But if there is a master who is well worth believing in, serving, and therefore waiting for, then Jesus is right; that there is a reunion that awaits everyone who believes, and who therefore waits.
And then I wonder – what would that reunion be like? It staggers the mind. But maybe it would be simpler than we think. Maybe having the indelible permanency of a family reunion on the front porch. A place where times stops, and the moment is everlastingly in the present, and the sun never seems to set.