Monday, July 17, 2017

On waiting

  One of the joys of summer is the experience of spending time doing nothing. It is often a pleasant experience, although some of that waiting is spent by people near big cities who are tied up in traffic, waiting to get out of the city or back into it at the end of vacation.

  Waiting is most often related to the theological virtue of hope, as in expectation: the expecting of a Messiah, of great change, of the parousia, God's interruption and bringing to a close historical time. In yesterday's second reading, we hear Paul speak of the importance of waiting for what one does not have. According to Paul, we await adoption, a good that is for now unseen:    
we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Rom. 8: 23b-25)
  What is less understood is that it is another theological virtue, love, that serves to interrupt the waiting. Indeed, it is love that is often sought or desired in order to stop the waiting. Love is what is awaited psychologically. (Though in a biblical context, it is arguably justice, namely Israel's hope for divine vindication that Jesus' messiahship both fulfills and transforms.) 

  This is why romantic love is often more relevant to the experience of waiting than it first appears. This is despite the fact that we translate love, the theological virtue, as caritas - translated as "charity" in English, but meaning love of God and neighbor in biblical terms. We are accustomed to seeing an opposition between two other kinds of love; agape and eros. These two forms of love are theologically not so much opposed but rather complementary. The experience of eros can (ought, in the context of marriage vows) lead to the self-giving toward one's lover that entails sacrifice, self-sacrifice. 

  Love and expectation are closely related to waiting. On a wooden railing at the hiking area at the Chutes de la Mastigouche in the Lanaudiere region of Quebec a couple of weeks ago, I saw that someone has carved “Fanny et Matthew: jamais un sans l’autre’ (Matthew and Fanny: never one without the other”). One can recognize in the graffiti of lovers an expectation that their love is binding. Two become one. Spatially, these lovers imagine future space as occupied by both of them together or neither of them. Time stands still to somehow honour the unity of this love the power of which feels like it has the authority to be inscribed in wood railings. Grafitti is a permanent marker of love that others will notice publicly. 

  In the experience of intense romantic love, time does have this character of lacking chronology or duration because the waiting appears to be over. What has been so elusive is now within one's grasp - supposedly. Augustine is the one who describes time as duration and it is this very quality of time that disappears in erotic love when physical passion and emotional vulnerability of self-giving allow one to lose touch with events, commitments and other people. This interrupting quality of love ends one sort of waiting and inaugurates another. Human beings are insatiable. We are created with the kind of desires that C.S. Lewis describes: 
"If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
  It is for this reason that erotic love can serve as an analogue for the kind of relationship that we will eventually enjoy in a condition with God in which the qualities of time as duration dissolve. (I suppose this entails some sort of atemporal view of God, which is interesting but not my main claim here.) The fleeting and proleptic features of romantic love are hints of the heavenly ecstasy promised by God as love. God is love according to the Christian tradition (1 Jn. 4:8) 

  Our craving for God –as lovers craving for each other -- consists of a unity that will overcome the business and duration of time. Waiting therefore is the kind of experience that perfectly contrasts the perichoresis or non-temporal succession of love that exists among the persons of the Trinity and our participation in that community in eternal life. Between earthly loves and heavenly love lies the self-sacrifice of agape that straddles time and eternity, which is why married life ought to intertwine both loves (eros and agape) so as to allow the earthly to prepare for the heavenly.   

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