True love dwells and even grows in the waiting space.

Waiting for You by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Cave writes ‘the lyrics and the vocal performance emanate from deep inside the lived experience itself1, in this instance he is writing about the Pogues classic. ‘Fairytale in New York’. Few could argue, on listening to his own composition ‘Waiting for You’, that such a description isn’t also merited.

The poignancy that Cave expresses in delivering the title lyric of this song leaves us in no doubt that true love dwells, and even grows, in the waiting space. As he sings ‘waiting for you’ we can sense that during a time of separation, love has grown. Yet, this is far more than a case of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. The waiting is more than the bittersweet parting of lovers pining for precious time together again. This is the heartfelt passion of those whose souls are conjoined, yet who are parted. ‘Your soul is my anchor, I never asked to be freed’, sings Cave, yet, as the line is sung, even as we sense that love has grown, we become aware that the waiting may well be in vain. In the longing is lament, and in the tangible sense of grief and sorrow which emanate from the lyric we are given an insight into the intensity of desire which lies within the waiting. A desire that risks not being fulfilled.

The truth is that for many in today’s society the act of waiting carries no risk. For the privileged, waiting simply means next day delivery! Desire is always fulfilled, and waiting is understood simply as the passage of time from one completed goal achieved towards the next. Richness is measured in the numbers of, not in the depth of, experiences. 

Yet this is not the whole picture of course. The wait goes on for clean water for 3 billion people across the world2. 1.2 million food parcels have been given out to those who have waited in line at food banks this year in the UK 3. 26 million refugees wait to return home or find security in a foreign land4. For these, and others, waiting is not simply a passage of time but a deep desire for security and the waiting of course does not always bear fruit. For many, life is not a journey from one peak to another but an attempt to find some even ground. A longing for a change in circumstances. A lament for what might be. 

Waiting is one of the themes of the liturgical season of Advent, although it is all too often trivialised, marketed as the countdown to Christmas Day. This is far removed from the real intention of the season, or indeed from the sense of waiting portrayed in Cave’s song. In both, there is real separation, in which the waiting time is not about the passing of the minutes, hours and days between where you are and where you want to be, but rather a profound period of preoccupation with and reflection upon what could and should be. Advent is a season to desire deeply.

Therefore during Advent we should not be asking, “am I prepared for Christmas?” Rather, we should be asking ourselves, “what is it that I long for?” “What do I lament that has passed?” “What do I wait for with a fathomless yearning?” “What would make me sing, my voice quivering, with the same passion and emotion I hear in Cave’s voice?” 

Your soul is my anchor
I never asked to be freed

To be anchored in God’s soul means that our desire is God’s desire. We wait, deeply desiring and longing for all that God longs for on this earth. ‘On earth, peace and goodwill to all’5 has become a cliché of Christmas. It is the greeting of the heavenly host to the shepherds from God and as such is no cliché, but a message from the heart of the divine. This is what God desires.

‘A priest runs through the chapel, all the calendars are turning
A Jesus freak on the street says He is returning
Well sometimes a little bit of faith can go a long, long way
Your soul is my anchor, never asked to be freed’

Too often waiting is seen as an eschatological exercise. We want a different world, restored relationships, water and food for all and peace on earth. Yet our generation seem content to accept this as a pipe dream, and our hopes are focussed instead, while ‘the calendars are turning’, to a day when He returns and all will be well! Yet waiting should never be about apathetic acceptance. 

There is no acceptance in Cave’s vocal or lyric – there is only longing.

The longing and yearning of waiting cannot accept what is. To be anchored in God’s soul is to ask never to be freed from our desire to see, and do all we can to ensure, peace on earth and goodwill to all. This waiting, this longing, this yearning leads us to allow our little bit of faith to go a long, long way in action.

‘Waiting for you
To return
To return
To return’

Jesus told a story about goats6. The goats were dedicated to the King and longed for him to return. They waited to serve him, and to pander to his every need. If he was overthrown in a coup they were ready to visit him. If he was on his sick bed they would be there too. They waited in their chapels as the calendar turned. One or two of them even shouted loudly in the street that the King would return. As they waited for him to return, others waited in the queue at the Foodbanks, waited for access to clean water and were arrested and languished in prison with no visitors. Yet, when the King returned he banished the goats from his Kingdom. They were dismayed and didn’t understand. They believed they had been faithful in waiting. The King explained that he was angry with the goats because while they had been waiting for the King to return they had done nothing to achieve the aims of his Kingdom. While they had been dreaming of a future Kingdom, they had failed to help those in their midst who were in need. To realise the kingdom in his absence.

There were sheep in this parable too. The sheep had spent their time in the King’s absence, not waiting, but acting as if the King were with them, always ready to serve those in need. On his return it was the sheep who the King welcomed into his Kingdom… 

…true love dwells and even grows in the waiting space…

1: The Red Hand Files, Issue #127, November 2020

2: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/26/more-than-3-billion-people-affected-by-water-shortages-data-shows

3: https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/mid-year-stats/

4: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/latest/news/unhcr-reports-highest-ever-number-of-forcibly-displaced-people-worldwide/

5: Luke 2:14

6: Matt. 25:31-46 

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