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R. S. Thomas
Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God
To speak; the air a staircase
For silence; the sun’s light
Ringing me, as though I acted
A great rôle. And the audiences
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.
                        Prompt me, God;
But not yet. When I speak,
Though it be you who speak
Through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.

We met Welsh poet Ronald Stuart Thomas earlier in this series. A priest of the Church of England, Thomas wrote many poems on spiritual themes, especially on the challenges of prayer.
In this short poem, Thomas evokes a peaceful moment, “kneeling before an altar / Of wood in a stone church / in summer.” The speaker seems to be alone in the empty church, and yet the moment has great import, great drama. He is “waiting for the God / To speak.” As Thomas describes the scene, we get the sense that everything is waiting for God to speak: the air is “a staircase / For silence”: the image gives us a sense of anticipation, as well as the potential for connection, like Jacob’s ladder, reaching from earth to heaven. The sun surrounds the speaker with light, spotlighting him like an performer on a stage, “as though I acted / A great role.” And then there’s the audience: a “close throng / of spirits waiting” with him, for whatever God will say: for the “message.”
After all this, the poem takes a surprising turn. “Prompt me, God; / But not yet.” Words of prayer are on the tip of his tongue, but he holds back. “When I speak, / Though it be you who speak / Through me, something is lost.” Even if God inspires what he is going to say, “something is lost.” That “something” is this pregnant silence, in the company with the “spirits,” the sun, the air, the church itself, all waiting together in a silence that is filled with God, even though God is silent. In the last line of the poem, Thomas says: “The meaning is in the waiting.” The revelation he awaits has already come, in the silent waiting itself.
Though the poem is set in the summer, I think this is the right poem for this time of year. This past Sunday, we began the season of Advent. The word “Advent” means “coming” and this season is all about waiting for Christ’s coming. Our Advent waiting is multi-layered. We wait and watch for the second coming, the day of Christ’s return, and the Church dares to await that day with joy and hope: we pray that Christ “may he find us watchful in prayer / and exultant in his praise” (Roman Missal). And there is another kind of waiting in Advent: we wait in anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s first coming at Christmas. Advent traditions like the Advent wreath, with its gradually increasing number of lit candles, and the Advent calendar, with its doors and windows for each day leading up to Christmas, are visual emblems of this joyful waiting. In our Advent waiting, past and future merge:  in the same moment, we look to our beginning and to our end.
In a lovely book on R. S. Thomas entitled Frequencies of God, Carys Walsh writes of this poem: “There is no anxiety in this waiting; nor is it something to be endured or suffered. There is simply the understanding that waiting upon God is fundamental to knowing God… Thomas opens up the paradoxical possibility that God might be revealed while we are waiting for God to be revealed.”
Have a blessed Advent!



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Seattle, Washington  98104
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