A Theology of Waiting

by maggi dawn

excerpted from Like the Wideness of the Sea: Women Bishops and the Church of England, chapter 2. 

Although it is sometimes right to wait, there is no monopoly of virtue in patient waiting. To agree to wait beyond the point of acceptability requires a passivity that is profoundly bad for the soul. And in this situation the call to wait, and wait, and wait again carries an undercurrent of immense, disempowering betrayal.

A dream deferred

To wait through disappointments and broken deadlines while a resolution is repeatedly deferred is damaging to individuals, relationships and institutions. Extreme cases of a deferral of hope are seen when people spend large portions of their lives waiting for inquests or judicial reviews. Even when justice is eventually done, the tragedy is not lost on us as we watch people released from lengthy prison sentences following a discovery of a miscarriage of justice, or families who have waited many years for inquests to be revisited after murder or abduction cases. The already heavy burden of a tragedy or huge error is greatly compounded by those lost years; we feel the sickening thud of injustice as we realize that ten, twenty, thirty years of someone’s life have been put on hold, and it comes home to us, as St Augustine put it, that “the drops of time are precious to me[1]”.  A recent example was the reopening of the investigation into the Hillsborough disaster. The panel, led by the [then] Bishop of Liverpool, uncovered the fact that what was already a great tragedy had been turned into a “double injustice” through the failure of the original inquest to bring the matter to its proper conclusion. Countless other stories have appeared in the press in recent years of people who having initially suffered terrible abuses, then lose years of their life through a failure of process before they find the freedom that comes from proper attention being given to their situation, and a clear, just statement is made. What these cases have in common is that a single injustice is compounded by the time that goes by, while those whose cries are unheard are simply left with no recourse to justice. The original injustice may be irreversible, but further, unnecessary harm is done by the deferral of justice in such situations…


Like the Wideness of the Sea was written prior to the acceptance of women as Bishops in the Church of England.It logs a history of the process up to that time, and the second Chapter, A Theology of Waiting, has application to any situation where decisions are deferred unreasonably.

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[1]  Augustine, Confessions 11:2