Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Patience takes time; being patient costs us time, but it is well spent

Patience is a word that gets bandied about a lot. Patience is, indeed, a virtue. Patience is something that I need to work on. In all my various activities I encounter people of every stripe and persuasion. For the most part, I enjoy this aspect of my life. While I am fairly realistic when it comes to people, I am not a misanthrope, nor am I a curmudgeon. I am far too aware of my own short-comings to be too judgmental of others. In fact, I tend to be brutal on myself, especially when I do not pray enough. So, in the first instance, I need to be more patient with myself.

In the next instance, I need to be more patient with my lovely wife, who is one of the most patient people I have ever known, which is why she puts up with me. I also need to be more patient with my oldest son, who is really a great young man. It is funny that reflecting on it shows me that it starts with me, moves to the one closest to me, then the next, etc., moving outwards in concentric circles. The bigger the circle, the more patient I am. In other words, it is easy to be really patient with people with whom I do not have much to do.

I am fascinated not only by words, but by language. Our word patient finds its etymological roots in the Latin word patiens, the present participle of pati to suffer; which may bear some relationship to the Greek word pēma, which also refers to suffering. There are five standard uses of patient. Of these, the one I am thinking about this morning is not being "hasty or impetuous". Being patient means slowing down, taking time. We cannot make time. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, sixty minutes in an hour, and sixty seconds in a minute. We must also realize that this way of dividing up time, while not arbitrary, is an imposition over the flow. It was the pre-Socratic, Heraklitos of Ephesus (ca. 500 BC), who Plato in his dialogue Cratylus paraphrases as stating "you could not step twice into the same river". It is easy to see that Heraklitos' doctrine of flux and unity of opposites results in logical incoherence, but there is a deep insight gained by this early Greek thinker, the first in the history of Western thought to posit more than a physical theory of being and who looked for the metaphysical foundation of being and sought moral applications. With regard to the river, time is, indeed, a function of change.

Anyway, we are there through all the moments that constitute our lives. Time forces us to make choices, to decide. We talk about spending time. We only spend that which has value. Something has value in proportion to its scarcity. If time is a function of change, then there is hope because we can change, given time. On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of the finite nature of our mortal lives. In the second reading for that day, St. Paul appeals to us to have the proper sense of urgency, when he wrote: "Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). Metanoia, which is the Greek word we translate as repent, means to have a change of mind, a change in perception. At the most practical level, to repent means making different choices about what we do with our time, about how we spend it. Far from being abstract, I can think of nothing more concrete than how we choose to spend our time. Our Lord himself tells us not to "be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" (Matt. 6:25-27).

"But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance"(2 Pet. 3:8-13).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a lovely post, Scott. I kept on looking at the title of this post and then actively avoiding it, knowing full-well that it would contain words that I NEED to hear, but words that I didn't necessarily WANT to hear. Your image of the concentric circles really hit home -- I need to be more patient with myself and with those I love the most. After that, I'm certain that all the other "craziness" in my life will settle down. Thanks for helping me re-focus on Lent and for reminding me of what's truly important.


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