Speaking of waiting and prayer

March 7, 2010 — Leave a comment

Some wisdom by Margaret Guenther:

When we wait, we live simultaneously in the “not yet” and in the present. There are no short-cuts. Sometimes I think of this psalm [Psalm 62] when I choose the wrong line at the supermarket: what promised to be a speedy passage turns out to be slow and tedious as the customers ahead of me fumble for the right change and dispute sales items with the checker, who is usually new on the job and struggling with a malfunctioning scanner.

My own small plan for my own small life demands rapid and purposeful movement with no wasted time and energy. But here I am, powerless and immobilized, reading the tabloid headlines that Elvis is not really dead or that a farmer in Illinois has grown a two-hundred-pound zucchini. The here-and-now is all there is: an attempt to move to the head of the line or otherwise short-circuit the process would violate an unwritten but powerful code and bring the collective wrath of my neighbors down upon me. Whatever great or trivial things I might wish to achieve in the next few minutes, right now there is nothing to do but to wait.

The psalm, like those frustrating moments in the supermarket line, reminds me of my ultimate powerlessness. Unlike the supermarket—or the airport check-in counter or the freeway toll booth—it also reminds me of the ultimate rightness of that powerlessness. This is not casual, purposeless waiting, but waiting for God. God is in charge. To wait upon God is not a fruitless waste of time or a sign of inefficient, ineffective prayer: it is our God-given work, our assigned task. It is the homework assignment that is never quite completed—at least in this life. It is, of course, ironic but very human to speak of “inefficient” prayer.

Most of us want our prayer to accomplish something, to count somehow, or at least to be entered on the credit side of God’s ledger. Yet the prayer of waiting is not so much a prayer of accomplishment as one of presence, a prayer of being rather than doing.

From My Soul in Silence Waits: Meditations on Psalm 62 by Margaret Guenther (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2000).

Trust in Him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to Him,
for God is our refuge.

Psalm 62:8

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