Archbishop Don’s Message on Patience
In his letter to the Romans (5:1-5), St Paul speaks a word we need to hear, about endurance, about patience. He notes that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” When I gathered with my little drafting group to prepare this message, the consensus was that I should speak about patience. It has probably never been easy to live with a deep patience, but it seems particularly difficult today to show patience.
The pandemic is demanding an incredible patience from us, and it is exhausting us.
So many people are experiencing fatigue from the pandemic. One of my confreres said recently, passionately, “I am so sick of Covid.” So many of us are tired of restrictions, tired of masks, tired of not being able to do so many things in a normal way. Yet no matter how frustrated we get, Covid 19 continues to surge around the world, and here in Saskatchewan there has been a big spike in cases. Caring for and protecting the most vulnerable among us requires patient endurance. Looking after our own mental, physical, and spiritual health and provide encouragement and support to others suffering from exhaustion and stress requires patient endurance.
Patience is especially difficult in an age of social media, and in an age of polarization. We see something we disagree with and we respond, we express our frustration. The opportunity that we have in face to face encounters, to say “am I hearing you correctly,” or “what do you mean by that,” or “have you considered this perspective,” those are often absent in social media. And the more controversial or dramatic our statements, the more likely we are to get hits, to have people pay attention to us. But the result is often polarization instead of dialogue, misrepresentation instead of understanding. One friend put it this way for me: patience is “an antidote to the driving force to act with immediacy and respond with urgency and view every situation within the virtual world as though it was the end of all worlds.”
As a people of faith, however, we are encouraged to ask “what is God’s way?” And while there are times when God acts with urgency and decisiveness, salvation history and even modern science suggest that God generally acts with incredible patience. If the universe is almost 14 billion years old, it is instructive that God waited almost 10 billion years before creating the earth, and another 4 ½ billion years before sending a Messiah. When God becomes incarnate in Jesus, it was not the fastest way to communicate or show us the face of God. Mary was pregnant with Jesus for nine months. Jesus waited 30 years for ministry. Just before his public ministry began, he spent 40 days in the desert. He patiently walked with the disciples as they struggled to understand who he was, and how God was loving us into redemption. St Paul exhorts us, “let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). I am thinking of Star Trek’s ‘mind meld,’ which passes everything in one mind into the brain of another. God could have done it that way, but didn’t. Instead he showed us the slow and excruciating way of giving everything, unto death on the cross. After the resurrection, the Risen Jesus only met sporadically with His apostles and other disciples. The paschal mystery, the sending of the Holy Spirit, come in God’s time, as does clarity in the teaching of the church. God is incredibly patient. And of course each of us has the personal witness of God’s great patience with us, for often, mercy takes the shape of a patience that endures.
Friends, we are about to celebrate the great feasts of All Saints and All Souls. The first shows us many paths to holiness, many ways of adapting one’s life to do it God’s way. The second, All Souls, invites us to ponder those who have gone before us, especially those we have loved, who have died. In the face of death, in the face of God’s promise to transform us, to bring us to new life, the only posture that is open to us is patient trust in the great mercy of God.
So next time you find yourself fretting, full of anxiety, or frustrated or bursting with annoyance, remember and put your trust in the slow working of God, the patient and persevering way of God with us, and try to do it God’s way, relying on God’s patience, and showing that patience to others. Rich blessings along the way.