Instances of Discovery

Some years ago I was in a group to each of whose members I posed this question: “What are you waiting for?” It was directed to me as well. What I wrote in response isn’t outdated.

“What am I waiting for?” poses a major issue of faith for me.

Control—both having it and being subjected to it, or at least feeling as if I was subjected to it—has skewed my life. I have not been content to wait, to let go.

There is in me much of the characteristically Texan “go get ’em” spirit [and it is with much sadness that I witness its current, 2021, political distortion into “let’s crush ’em”], and mostly I’m glad of it. But carried to an extreme, such a spirit can push the God of surprises, the God of grace, over the horizon.

If the positive Texas activism of the 1940s and 1950s has fueled my own impatience, so also has a fear of abandonment. Therapy has helped me see how deep-seated this is. I suppose waiting has been fearful for me because if I wait, someone (including God) may leave, or may never come—Waiting for Godot must speak to me more directly than I have hitherto realized.

Doing things maintains control and (appears to) ward off the threat of abandonment. But: things get out of control, and doing things does not forestall abandonment. So: the failure to wait turns out to be highly ineffective.

“I will wait for the Lord” is for me a kind of ascetic discipline. I have been reinforced and rewarded my whole life for doing things. The phenomenon of the curriculum vitae (résumé) is an outward and visible sign of an inward American-male-academic spirituality—how much documentable accomplishment can you list so as to impress others and reassure yourself? (This latter motive is at least as powerful as the former.)

What am I waiting for? The very phrasing of the question I now see is a vestige of my unease with waiting. What I have to learn now is the virtue of simply waiting without obsessively wondering “what for?”

Significantly for me, what I find myself recalling as time runs out for this part of our day is a phrase that came to me as a revelation when I was an undergraduate: John Keats’s definition of “Negative Capability”: the ability to be in “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” I guess then I knew it was true. Only recently have I begun to grasp what it means.

[And here in 2021 I call to witness the late Bieke Vandekerckhove, whose The Taste of Silence: How I Came to be at Home with Myself is my favorite spiritual guidebook (alongside The Brothers Karamazov). Bieke, who lived 27 years with ALS, was asked what she “longed for”—“as if,” she writes, “you have something left to desire when everything is being taken from you!” Her discovery: “It is longing, period. It is incomplete. It is open, to everything and everybody. … Sometimes it’s there, mostly not. Then there’s nothing to do but wait and wrestle.”]