The School of Patience

David Ruis, Dec 08, 2022, 11:29 PM
David Ruis National Director
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"The mother of expectation is patience. The French author Simone Weil writes in her notebooks: "Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life." Without patience our expectation degenerates into wishful thinking."
Henri Nouwen
Well. Here we are midstream in the season of Church tradition, Advent, one that the Catholics call  "the school of patience." I am finding myself pondering this. A lot. Nouwen's keen insight here which alerts us to the potential of expectant faith deteriorating into simply wishful thinking is one aspect of this I think we really need to dig into.

Certainly during the last years cultivating this posture in life and living - that of patience - has proven to be very difficult. Just the constant shifting policies and protocols designed to help our society navigate a time of pandemic were more than enough to try this timeless virtue. Yet I am finding that as we slowly emerge from the disorientation and reach for a new normal, our propensity to impatience may only be exacerbated rather than relieved. Hasn't this been enough? Been there, done that, now let's get on with things!

Learning patience. Being schooled again and again. Will we ever learn?

As I think about patience in this season of reflection around the initial coming of Christ and His imminent return, I am strangely drawn to some of His final days on earth. That final Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples.

So much is swirling. The observance of this deeply sacred meal under the watchful eye of the Pharisees and the oppressive tread of the Roman boot. The awkward intuition of doom created by Judas' impending betrayal. Peter's clumsy resistance to the washing of the disciples' feet by Jesus. His final thoughts and instructions to them, seeming to create only more confusion for His followers rather than clarity. What a scene.

One of the texts in which this story is unpacked for us is in John 13. A couple of phrases really pop for me. One is at the beginning of the chapter. John states that Jesus "knew his time has come." And yet in that knowing, He speaks to the disciples as He gets up from the table to wash their feet, "you don't understand now what I'm doing, but it will be clear enough to you later." (John 13:1,7 MSG)

Right from the get go, from the moment of Mary's awareness of Jesus growing in her womb, there is this sweet mixture in the vocation of Christ of something that has come in the "fullness of time" and yet the awareness that there is so much more "yet to come." The expectation that permeates advent is not one that is anchored to, as Nouwen has reminded us, "wishful thinking" but rather that of a clear, loving and intentional unfolding of things put in motion by the Father. Fleshed out by the Son. Sustained by the Spirit.

Ah. The time has come. Yet wait, there is so much more to learn. So much more that needs to come clear. Be patient. Yes, step by step. Aware of the moment that is upon us, bristling with what the Father is up to. And yet experiencing the insatiable longing for what yet will come. Learning to trust. Learning to wait. Learning patience.

The word for knowledge in John 13:7 points to a sense of "absolute and complete knowledge" as Jesus says, "you don't understand." But a different word is used when He states that we things "will be clear" eventually. The inference of the language here is that we will gain this clarity, this knowledge, by experience. As we patiently endure. We patiently learn. We patiently grow. Yes, again, step by step.

We don't know (οἶδας), but we will perceive (γνώσῃ). What we can't understand we will learn as we stay true to the narrow path. Lean into the Way. Patient progress. Setting our affections on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. Lifting our eyes higher than the limited sight that faith declarations, cloaked in the sentiment of wishful thinking, afford, and look to a hopeful future that is held in the hands of the Lord Himself and that will be established in His eternal kingdom.

"Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land."
Psalm 37:7-9
"You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near."
James 5:8 NIV