I can only wait on thee.
Wait on has two meanings: 1) to stay in place, delaying action, for the convenience of someone else; and 2) to serve food and drink. The meanings are related, of course. Wait staff stays in place, tailoring their timing and action to their customers. The busiest times for servers are dictated by the ones who are eating and drinking, breaks come when there is a lull in business, and take-home pay depends on how well the customer is served. Food and drink aren’t instant products, so servers must take kitchen timing into account. Waiting on is connecting people to nourishment; when done well, it revives the spirit as well as the body. That’s why it’s a hospitality industry.
While studying at seminary, I worked at faculty lunch, setting up the room and buffet, then serving those who came. After the professors and administrators helped themselves to food, I’d pour water, remove plates, and serve coffee. At the end, I’d strip the tables and buffet, deliver the last of the dishes to the kitchen, and sit down for my own lunch. I enjoyed the work. Finding something physical and social that provided a paycheck was a welcome break from graduate studies, and the food was great.
In the three years I spent at faculty lunch, only two professors seemed comfortable having me as their server. Most looked anywhere but directly at me, especially if I was a student in one of their classes. When I asked if they wanted coffee, they’d mumble a reply. When I refilled empty water glasses, they leaned away. It was such a weird reaction, that I asked one of my professors about it. She said, “It just seems wrong, having someone I see in class serve me.”
Her answer bothers me to this day. At a graduate institution that prepares men and women for the ministry (serving in churches, schools, prisons, and hospitals), the gift of hospitality and service shouldn’t be considered inappropriate for anyone. After all, most of the faculty and most of the students participated in a table fellowship at least once a month without considering it demeaning – the sacrament of communion. Why was serving and receiving communion a privilege but serving and receiving lunch an embarrassment?
Waiting on God is: 1) living my life in God’s good time rather than my own; and 2) offering hospitality to God’s beloved: every living thing in this universe. I can accept with grace the service of others, and I can serve others with joy. Both are blessings, sure signs of God’s love. After all, God did both for me in Jesus.
About the Author of this prayer:
Metropolitan Philaret was the son of a Russian Orthodox priest who became a priest himself. He taught at St. Petersburg Theological Academy, and eventually became the Metropolitan of Moscow – a ranking somewhere between archbishop and patriarch. Not quite on par with the pope, but awfully close. He worked for offering scripture and other teachings in Russian so more people could read them. He wrote a catechism that is still in use. I suspect Philaret was a very busy man who had his share of difficulties.