How Long We Wait

Ready or not, Lent is upon us!  We can think of Lent as a teacher, a school that we faithfully attend for 40 days in the hope that we will be changed – that we will be altered in some way by what we are taught.  One lesson Lent teaches is the lesson of waiting.

My students and I spent the last six months studying some of the treasures of the Hebrew Bible, leaving me with more appreciation than ever for the amount of time the people of Israel waited patiently for their God to fulfill his promises.  Yes, there were questions, there was confusion, there were times when things looked awfully bleak and murky.  But as a people, they refused to give up on their God who, they believed, would keep every promise, win every battle, and triumph over every evil:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet, you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

This is one of Lent’s lessons.  And of course, it is one of the lessons of the Cross.  God unfailingly keeps his promises.  But sometimes, how long we wait!

The poem “How Long We Wait” by Thomas Merton was given to me years ago by someone who wanted to see me through a time in my life when things seemed upside down and backward.  I’ve treasured it ever since.  The movement and imagery of Merton’s poem helped me understand the beauty of waiting – the perennial questions, posed a million ways, and the prayerful expectations of human longing.  It captures the faith of the Israelites, the life-altering lessons of patient waiting, the joyful expectation of our Lenten longing – we who wait for the Bridegroom to laugh, when the dark is done.