When we moved into our new home in St. Helena a little over three years ago, there was a round, smooth river rock in the flower bed outside the front door, left by a previous tenant. It had a single word engraved on it: “Patience.” “Ah!” I thought wryly, “My Achilles heel.” With a strong sense of vision for a better future and a desire to see transformation in my own life, the lives of those around me, and the world, patience is often something I struggle with.
Patience is a little thought of but key Christian concept; the word occurs 23 times in the New Testament. In this context, it is usually referring to one of two things: either God’s patience in waiting for humanity to get it right, or the patience of God’s people in waiting for God to set things right. With the common assumption that all is not right with the world as it is, one could get the impression that God and humanity are in a stalemate — each waiting for the other to make the first move, to take the first step toward healing, wholeness, reconciliation and redemption.
But Christian theology teaches us that God has already taken the first step; that God is always moving towards us — God moved toward humanity in creation — revealing beauty to us and giving us the unique ability to reflect and co-create it. God moved toward humanity in a special relationship with the people of Israel in ancient times through the covenant of the law and the word of the prophets. God moved toward humanity in the twists and turns, ups and downs, of the particular history of that group of people. And God moved toward humanity by being born as a human being in an obscure outpost of that people, oppressed by the Roman Empire. God moved toward all of humanity in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. And God continues to move in this world through the action of God’s Spirit — inviting our co-operation in the restoration of this beautiful world.
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The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The people of God (that is, all people who co-operate with goodness in the world) have been waiting a long time to see more than glimmers of hope, of justice, truth, and love prevailing on earth. In the Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul said: “Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24b-25)
Patience is a vital virtue for our time. Patience with our world, patience with one another, yes, and patience with ourselves. Patience requires good-will, giving ourselves, and others, the benefit of the doubt. Patience involves humility and trust that God may in fact be up to “more than we can ask for or imagine.” (Book of Common Prayer) Patience is a virtue I hope to continue to cultivate.
I leave you with the words of Brother Curtis Almquist, a monk of the Episcopal Society of St. John the Evangelist: “Living life patiently is very difficult to do. But living life patiently is not as difficult as not living life patiently. There are so many variables in life over which we have little, if any, control. Rather than seeing life as a series of obstacles, frustrations, and impenetrable questions, we could instead see life as an endless stream of invitations to cooperate with whatever God is up to, and to abandon ourselves into God’s hands and God’s time.”
The Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga is rector of Grace Episcopal Church, 1314 Spring St. in St. Helena. She may be contacted at email@example.com. Grace Church is a wonderful place to cultivate the spiritual virtue of patience. Grace holds Sunday services at 8 & 10 a.m., and a Spanish-language Eucharist every other Saturday at 5 p.m. The sanctuary is open daily for meditation, and the labyrinth is always open! grace-episcopal.org