Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The practice of waiting

My contemplative class (whose traveling adventures were previously chronicled here) is reading and talking about Quakerism. We began class today by waiting until someone was moved to speak (we've spend enough time together in silence to be able to do this). We noted that it can be awkward to wait in this way. Will anyone talk? I found I had to remind myself to not talk merely to "coach" them along. Wait. Until. Someone is moved.

We spent some time talking about waiting, and its role in the contemplative life. Our last meeting had focussed on what constitutes obedience in the lay contemplative life — reading Madeleine Delbrel where she recommends using the vagaries of life to form oneself in obedience. At the end of class today I noted that one practice I use to foster patience is to let the person behind me in line at the supermarket go ahead of me. Particularly when it's really crowded. One of my students noted that just the thought made her anxious. "Me, too. That's why I keep practicing."

I'm writing about waiting for do you practice waiting? or do you?

Jim McDermott, S.J. has some interesting thoughts about waiting on God, the Spiritual Exercises and Advent here.


  1. I wait by trying to be closer to God in my prayer life. I try to center at least once a week. At dinner each night, after grace, we read a prayer from an Advent reflection book. I am very pleased with the book this year - one of the prayers, for example, is about being thankful for interruptions.

    I also practice patience while waiting in situations where it might be difficult - a slow driver when I'm in a hurry, someone in front of me at Starbucks who can't decide on a drink and then has a million questions about everything. Just a little extra patience as I try to be good about waiting. This was suggested many years ago in an Advent homily.

    These are little things but they help me to be mindful.

  2. I have to say that I do not currently have a "practice" and that the whole notion makes me anxious. Of course, I *love* to write about these things, but to do them... Hah! Another story indeed and one that I need to live and not just write about.

    I do ask God for help all the time - so that is it for now. Having said that, this was the essence of my early morning prayer today, so I am most heartened to find this post here today. Encouragement.

  3. I'm terrible at waiting. For that matter, I'm terrible at silence. I'd make a terrible Quaker :)

    Fostering patience? That's an interesting idea. I never thought of patience as something you could practice--which is precisely why I should do just that!

  4. I've developed a practice of waiting, of stillness, over a rather long period of time. From this place where I am now, it seems to be so easy and so rich. But during the process it felt anything but.

    What I did was start with 2 minute intervals. Seriously.

    Two minutes of quiet. And even if I felt I could go longer, I did not. And over time I added another few minutes. I stayed with five minutes for a year. I allowed myself to do the five minutes more than once a day, but not more than five minutes.

    It is like a lectio practice of waiting.

    What has happened is that my body and my mind and my spirit can tune in to one another fairly quickly now when I make a call for silence, or waiting. I do not need to be in a church, or in a particular pose. Or even alone or in silence.

    So, when I'm in line at the grocery store, I often try to make this call. Be still.

    When I'm driving and I see a big, slow truck. Be still.

    When someone doesn't do what I think they should (ha!). Be still.

    When my plans don't work out. Be still.

    This becomes a kind of mini-Advent. It has taught me to wait for what is next. For what other plan is unfolding for me, the one outside and beyond my own plan.

  5. When my daughter was little she used to say to me, "Daddy! I can't wait until X" (X being some important-to-a-child event) and I would always respond to her, "But Kate. Of course you can." And she always could.

    There are two hard aspects of waiting (for a little girl or for her dad). First, it's boring. And second, what we are waiting for might not come. Ever.

    John Cage is the expert I turn to for the former: "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all."

    Beckett is the solace I find for the latter. His characters wait and it is occasionally excrutiating to them that they are waiting (whenever it becomes apparent to them that they are merely waiters). But they don't leave. They don't stop. They don't acknowledge this, but they wait on *together*, even after each gives the other permission to go.

  6. A few years ago, while I was living in Philly, my horn went on the fritz. At first I was really frustrated: I would be behind somebody at a traffic light, they wouldn't notice it had turned green, and there would be nothing I could do! I did have a few occasions of waiting through an entire cycle of a light because the person in front of me at an intersection was texting or something and didn't notice it had turned.

    Eventually, I decided that I would use that time to pray for the person in front of me. (And usually not in a "OK, I'm praying that you will stop being such a FREAKIN IDIOT!" way, either.) It meant that I kept getting little reminders to think of other people, to pray for them, and to be less impatient. It was quite a revelation to me how often I wanted to use my horn, and how little it was about safety!

    Eventually, of course, I needed to get the horn fixed, and gradually fell off the wagon and became just another obnoxious Philly driver... I am a Quaker, and for the period when I was consistently doing this spiritual practice, I felt as though my life was more in tune with my values.

  7. waiting hmmmm, I do it best if I have doodling material in hand ;') I doodle better than I wait.