“Patience you must have, my young Padawan,” says Yoda to Luke Skywalker.
When I say this to Cole he doesn’t understand the Star Wars reference. Or patience for that matter. I’m not convinced I understand patience either.
Patience is “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” I do a decent job with the aspect of acceptance. In some relatively innocuous circumstances, such as waiting at a red light, I sometimes do a good job of remaining calm and serene. I don’t do such a good job when I’m waiting for Cole to go from point A to point B, or brush his teeth, or get dressed. My need for control and timely action is challenged, and I often lose my internal, and sometimes external, cool.
When I have the big stressors of life placed in their proper compartments, not ignored, but set off to the side so I can function during the day, I have a measure of serenity. An almost laughable peace and trust that, to quote St. Julian of Norwich, “All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing shall be well.” I live in total trust that things will unfold and I’ll be ok.
When the compartments tip over and spill their insides all over my heart, I get upset. Like my son, I throw temper tantrums in the form of anxiety and fear. Why are you taking so long, God? Do you have any idea what time it is? Haven’t I waited long enough?
Two things about patience strike me as odd. First, that we tend to link patience with waiting even though “waiting” is not in the definition, only implied. Second, that patience comes from the Latin patientia which means “suffering.”
How did a word for suffering evolve into a word that teaches us how to tolerate suffering?
Last week I went to a mid-day, contemplative Eucharist. I arrived awash in my own inner suffering regarding all the perceived delays in my life. Less than twenty-four hours prior I was complaining to a friend about God’s apparent slowness. “Haven’t I waited long enough? Something has to break open here.” And then we read this from 2 Peter:
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. . . . Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
Ok, God, I hear you.
A handful of priests of late have said, “We are an Advent people.” (They also say we are an Easter People, but that’s a related topic for another time.) We are a people in constant waiting and preparation. The purpose of Advent is to teach us how to wait with patience and hopeful expectation while living each moment as it is.
The purpose of our yoga practice is to teach us to be present and to prepare us inside and out to meet the trials and triumphs of this life as the people we wish to be. I wish to be responsive rather than reactive. Kind rather than aloof. Hopeful instead of cynical. Patient instead of exasperated.
One of the hallmarks of St. Benedict’s Rule is his admonition against grumbling. Throughout the Rule Benedict makes exceptions that allow for the diversity of human limitations. If you are ill and truly can’t subsist on just vegetables, take a little meat. (The monks ate mostly cooked vegetables. There’s no room for food shaming in the Rule.) Rather than setting a rigid clock schedule, let us adjust our daily activities to the light of the season. Give a person what she needs to feel healthy and strong so her mind and spirit can stay focused on God. Or rather, so that her mind can stay focused on the good promise of God.
When I’m grumbling I’m definitely focused on God. Just not on God’s good promise. I’m focused on my perception of absence. Of slowness. Of “Why this again?” And, “Haven’t we been through this already?”
Thankfully, like Yoda with Luke, God has more patience with me than I have with God. I, like all of us who choose this path, am an Advent person, a Padawan learner in the ways of changing mental and spiritual focus so that I may be found at peace while waiting in hope for goodness as life unfolds.