The Faith and the Love and the Hope are all in the Waiting

Last month I went on a weekend retreat at Worth Abbey — the Benedictine monastery featured on BBC TV’s The Monastery and The Big Silence.

We followed the monks’ services from Matins at 6.20am to Compline at 9pm and, whatever our religious views might have been, we all found a great sense of peace from the gentle rhythm of the sounds and the movements in the rituals that the monks have been carrying out for more than 40 years (Worth is a modern Abbey).

At every single part of the Divine Office, as it’s known, the eldest of the monks, Father Charles, was present in the monks’ stalls before each service and made his way out after the other monks. Father Charles is in his 80s and very frail. The first time we watched him moving so very slowly with his stick and hobbling out of the church on his own, several of us wondered why the other monks didn’t help him. No one, not even the youngest of the monks, offered him an arm or even waited for him.

But then, as we continued through the daily routine, Father Charles’s slow and creaky movements began to merge into the whole of the liturgy. At some of the services, especially the early morning ones, we were the only congregation in the huge church. There was no obligation to do so, but we all stood, respectfully, in our stalls and waited until Father Charles had left — a full five minutes after all the other monks.
Then, Lisa, one of our group missed one of the services and she told us that she had seen all the monks waiting just outside the church for their companion.

It wasn’t a case of not helping him; it was a case of respecting exactly who he is and allowing him to take his own perfect time without patronizing or hurrying him.

It reminded me of a shaman I met at the first ever New Age festival I attended. He gave me a reading and said, “Tell me, if you saw a blind man in the street fall over, what would you do?”

“Help him up,” I replied.

“Did he ask you?” said the shaman.

That made me think.

So often, we want to help other people because we think they are in trouble. But they’re not; and even if they are, perhaps they really, really, don’t want to be helped.

Perhaps they’re just where they are and that’s all there is to it. And perhaps they need us to respect that more than to offer our patronage; perhaps they are just not ready yet to move on; perhaps we interfere if we try to help without finding out first if they actually want our assistance.

As someone who has an in-bred tendency to jump into things without thinking, it was a wonderful reminded to ‘be still and wait’ just as it says in T. S. Eliot’s East Coker from the Four Quartets:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

And if we, ourselves, should need help, then surely we must remember that, just like there are retreat participants and monks at Worth Abbey, there are people standing silently, respectfully in the darkness around you, aware and waiting to be asked. 


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