Lately, I’ve been reading Samuel Beckett, for the first time.  His work is bleak, worked down to the rawness of a human condition characterized by increasing infirmity, homelessness, wandering, and waiting.  It’s depressing, and the humor is black, leaving you teetering between laughter and tears.  For example, one character discusses how he deduced a strategy to suck, equally, singly, and in-turn, on sixteen pebbles he picked up on the beach while he has only four pockets in which to store them.  This goes on for six pages.  Six pages.  And before you dismiss poor, old Molloy as just a nutcase, you should know that his sucking stones stave off hunger and thirst.  Or, take Krapp, who only eats bananas, exacerbating his (self-inflicted?) constipation.  Yes, feel free to giggle at his name while, at the same time, wringing your heart over his “farewell to love.”  Moreover, is his alcoholism repugnant or pitiable?  Probably both.

Beckett is hard, and often I don’t see a light at the end of his tunnels.  One reason for this: these characters are coming out of a war-torn Europe, more precisely, a post-WWII France.  Even though Beckett, an Irishman who joined the French Resistance, was not shipped off to the camps, he lost friends who were.  He also knows what it’s like to be on the run from the Gestapo and to be starving from insufficient rations.  No wonder his work is considered absurd.

But here’s another reason, based mainly on my gut: Beckett is a Lenten writer, more specifically—I venture—a Holy Saturday writer.  (Even though his biography begins by describing him as “someone so conscious of the Easter story and so aware of life as a painful Passion,”[1] I cannot speak to Beckett’s faith, nor say with certainty if this was his intention.)  Beckett offers us the kind of material appropriate for these hard moments of the Church calendar.

Take Waiting for Godot, for example, Beckett’s most celebrated work and one of the most important plays of the 20th century.  A famous review describes Godot as “a play in which nothing happens, twice.” [2]  If you haven’t read it, here’s the Twitter version: Act I: two men wait for Godot, and Godot never comes. Act II: two men wait for Godot, and Godot never comes.  Curtain.  The acts aren’t completely identical; it’s more like repetition with a difference, but you get the picture.  Obviously, we never see Godot, but we hear about him.  And, if this name were pronounced à la British, it would be: GOD-oh.  Hard to miss the allusion, then.

The Christian story, I propose, can be mapped, loosely, onto Godot.  First act: Israel, the people of God, wait centuries, yearn through misery—wars, occupations, exiles—for the Messiah.  Then, the Messiah comes, but for only a meager thirty or so years.  Now, we are in the second act: the Church, the people of God, we wait, as Christians have waited millennia, yearning for the Messiah.  And, doesn’t it feel, much of the time, as if, like the elusive Godot, he never came and will never come again?  All this misery: villages raided; children gunned down at school; suicide bombers in markets, presidential entourages, and concert halls; overflowing refugee camps and boats; broken relationships; the humdrum of our petty, selfish lives; so many hateful words.  Our world, like that of Godot, stinks of corpses.

My pastor slipped up this past Sunday, saying “Lent” instead of “Advent,” as she sent us into this new season.  How appropriate, actually, for these two periods of waiting mirror each other: repetition with a difference.  Thus, in Advent, just as much as in Lent, must we grapple with the raw, miserable pain that riddles our Holy Saturday world.  Only then, does the Christ-child—poverty-stricken, refugee that he was—bear any significance.

O come, o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.

[1] Knowlson, James. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.


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