In the drab waiting-room
the failed travellers, resigned, sleep
on the hard benches, inured
to postponement and foul coffee.
Hope has given up on them.
There are also the impatient,
pacing platforms, and the driven,
purple with frustration, abusing
their mobiles, for the hardest part
of waiting is the not doing.
Truly to wait is pure dependence.
But waiting too long the heart
grows sclerotic. Will it still
be fit to leap when the time comes?
Prayer is waiting with desire.
Two aged lives incarnate
century on century
of waiting for God, their waiting-room
his temple, waiting on his presence,
marking time by practicing
the cycle of the sacrifices,
ferial and festival,
circling onward, spiralling
towards a centre out ahead,
seasons of revolving hope.
Holding out for God who cannot
be given up for dead, holding
him to his promises – not now,
not just yet, but soon, surely,
eyes will see what hearts await.
Richard Bauckham, FRSE, FBA, is a renowned English biblical scholar and theologian, whose many published works include The Theology of the Book of Revelation (1993) and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (2006). He’s also a hobbyist poet! I’ve published this poem with his permission. It’s inspired by Luke 2:22–38, which describes two elderly Jews, “righteous and devout,” who had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” the Messiah, for many years and finally encountered him at the temple one day in the infant Jesus of Nazareth. This “Presentation at the Temple,” as the episode is called, is commemorated yearly by Christians on February 2, Candlemas.
Bauckham’s definition of prayer—“waiting with desire”—is the most succinct, and probably the best, I’ve ever heard. His poem enjoins us to assume the same “waiting with desire” posture as Simeon and Anna as we look fervently toward the Christ’s second coming, when God will dwell with humanity face to face once again, this time everlastingly.
(Update, December 2022: This poem now appears in Bauckham’s first volume of poetry, Tumbling into Light, published by Canterbury Press.)