“The Meaning Is in the Waiting” – R.S. Thomas

bus-stop-4Sometimes when I’m standing in line . . . waiting . . . I say to myself, “Life’s a matter of hurrying up . . . and waiting . . . and being bored.”

R.S Thomas, on the other hand, declares, “The meaning is in the waiting,” to which I say, “Depends upon the kind of waiting.”

Waiting when we know what we’re waiting for. Waiting when we don’t know what we’re waiting for. Waiting when we’re somewhere between the known and unknown.

Poet David Constantine describes a man who knows what he’s waiting for: “girls who’ll speak to him”:

Nobody waits like him, I’ve watched him wait
Hours outside a teashop in Gallowgate
Where another
[girl] works who spoke to him.
 ‘The trouble is,’ I said, ‘you frighten them.’
‘All I want’s is some female talking with,’ he said.

He knew what he was waiting for: a girl who cared enough to speak to him. We observe his patient waiting . . . and smile . . . and shed a tear.

Then there are those who don’t know what they’re waiting for. Don’t know that, in fact, they are waiting for someone to say, “I love you.” Perhaps they thought no one would ever love them and so gave up waiting. Perhaps they thought they were too old for romance.

Only to be surprised by words, by embraces they never expected to experience.

R.S. Thomas says to his first wife, Elsi:

I never thought in this poor world to find
Another who had loved the things I love,
The wind, the trees, the cloud-swept sky above;
One who was beautiful and grave and kind,
Who struck no discord in my dreaming mind, . . .

Finally, there is the waiting somewhere between knowing what we’re waiting for and not knowing what we’re waiting for.

This is the waiting that RS expresses in a number of his poems: waiting for the God he’s been told about, has read about, to become a felt presence, not an absence, in his life.

RS’s poems suggest that each time God becomes a presence, God discloses a different aspect of God. So RS never knows precisely what he is waiting for. Always there is something previously unknown about God that God reveals, thereby adding a facet to RS’s view of God.

On one poetic occasion, RS expressed the meaning of waiting in these words: “An absence is how we become more sure / of what we want.”

As we wait for the presence of God, we refine our theology. God ceases to be the Man Upstairs, Santa Claus in the Sky, our Problem Solver. God becomes the Presence – often experienced as an Absence – in whom we live and move and have our being.

RS confesses to God:

                      . . . I would have knelt
long, wrestling with you, wearing
you down. Hear my prayer, Lord, hear
my prayer. As though you were deaf, myriads
of mortals have kept up their shrill
cry, explaining your silence by
their unfitness.
                             It begins to appear
this is not what prayer is about.
It is the annihilation of difference,
the consciousness of myself in you,
of you in me; . . .

The meaning of the waiting that we call praying is the discovery of who God is for us and who we are in God.


Quotes used in this post:

“The meaning is in the waiting” – “Kneeling,” R. S. Thomas, Not That He Brought Flowers (1968), 32.

“. . . and waited” – “Monologue,” David Constantine, Something for the Ghosts (2002), 19.


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