Every tear brings the Messiah closer. Tears and messiahs, so seldom do we connect these two! Our age is characterized by impatience, by an unwillingness to ache, to long, to yearn, to sweat lonely tears in the garden as we wait for new birth. More and more, we are becoming a culture which is incapable of remaining within emotional suffering. We are moving to the point where inconsummation of all kinds is inconceivable. A strange and frightening incident several years ago helped highlight this for me. I was journeying to the U.S.S.R. with a group of western tourists.
We arrived in Moscow on a blizzardy December evening. We entered the airport, cleared customs and moved toward our connecting flight to Leningrad. Then, for reasons never explained to us, we were made to wait… wait for 28 hours, without explanation and without food. Thousands of other people also waited in that airport that night. Everyone was without explanation, but only our group, the Westerners, appeared to be angry and in panic. We rushed angrily from desk to desk, demanding explanations and phoning embassies. Blood pressures and tempers ran high and, within our group, there was the constant indignant expression: “Nobody may do this to us! We don’t have to put up with this!” What was enlightening in this experience was that, fairly soon, one was able to pick out every Westerner in that airport. All of us from the West were angry, impatient, indignant and contemptuous.
The Eastern Europeans waited much more passively, without anger and impatience. Obviously, they were more used to waiting.
Like the rest of the Western tourists, I was also impatient. Twenty-eight hours later, again without explanation, our flight for Leningrad was announced and our vigil was over. Except that it hadn’t been a vigil. From the beginning to the end, we had fought the waiting, we had been angry and contemptuous, and we had felt that our rights were slighted. Later, much later, in a reflective moment, I saw in this incident a parable of Western culture. Stated simply, the lesson is this: Just as we rushed about that airport refusing to wait, impatient, convinced that nothing had a right to deny us what we wanted, so too we rush about our lives refusing to ever wait for things, refusing to remain in emotional tension. The effect of this impatience is the same everywhere: We see it in our economics, in our sexual morality, in our infidelities and in every proclivity to seize, as by right, what is gift and love.
Impatience, our inability to live with tension and longing, lies at the root of so much pathos within our lives. We see it, for instance, in our sexual lives. Today, fewer and fewer persons are waiting until marriage to have sex. Why? Because sex is such a powerful tension and we have never been taught to wait.
Increasingly, for both adult and teenage groups, I find it futile to even speak of confining sex to marriage. When one is unable to live in tension, it is totally unrealistic to suggest that tension as poignant as inconsummate sexuality must be lived with for long periods of time. The same impatience lies at the root of so much of what is wrong with us economically today. We feel we have right to all the good things we want. They are there, so why should we have to wait? So we mortgage and borrow and demand higher wages and, one way or the other, get what we want. Our economy is in trouble because virtually everyone is living beyond their means and our culture itself resembles a group of impatient children stamping their feet, each demanding a huge share of the candy right now! Especially, however, we see this impatience in our inability to handle tension within relationships and within our lives in general.
Because of this, we never give proper birth to anything, love, life or meaning. Pain is a pregnancy. Through it we conceive and gestate. Pregnancies must be carried to term. Today, we end most of our pain artificially, by caesarean. Virtually everything in our lives is born prematurely, not fully formed, unable then to survive. That is why our lives are full of infidelities, things gone sour and superficiality. When we are in pain, instead of asking: “Can I stay with this pain? Is there a pregnancy for rebirth in this tension?” We do whatever we can simply to relieve the tension. We never cry enough tears to bring the messiah to birth.
In East Coker, T.S. Eliot writes:
“But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not yet ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light,
and the stillness the dancing.”