Spirituality of the Readings
Wait and Be Small
There are some very long traffic lights in St. Louis. They change to red just as I drive up. I examine my watch to see how long the proud light will wield its power. Sometimes it stays on for—listen to this—a minute and thirty seconds! Forever! I am late and in a hurry and a mechanical device is announcing, “No, no, no, you may not go.” This even though there is no traffic whatsoever to stop for.
Do I seem impatient? I admit it. And I want to become patient. I want it this Advent especially. I want the dry desert and the parched land to exult. I want them to blossom with abundant flowers (First Reading) instead of with blood. Aren’t you impatient for it?
I want patience and I want it now!
Patience asks, “Do you worry endlessly about the future? Slow down, look around, live.” This is very hard to do in our present time.
Jesus was patient. It was eons (by our time measurements) till he was born into the world. He suckled at Mary’s breast till full. He waited as he was gently burped. And think of his years as a carpenter. God’s beloved, making a chair. And then another chair.
Mary was patient too. Her lifelong closeness to God, her saying yes, her nine months, her days at his side, her place at the cross. When the angel first made the annunciation to her, she did not demanded guarantees and safety. She offered trust, not ultimatums.
Such wonderful behaviors.
We all know reasons why patience should be in our lives. It is a virtue. It is nice. Proper people have it. Terrible people don’t. It is a help to others. Jesus was patient, Mary was patient, God is patient. Why can’t you and I be patient? It appears that we are actually impatient about being patient.
Compare my description of the stop light above with the following portrayal of a farmer from the Second Reading:
See how the farmer waits for
the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.*
Can you feel the difference? The man tilling the ground is quiet, content to wait. He trusts that when the conditions are right his waiting will blossom.
I sense something else here, and it helps. Humility. To be humble is to be exactly what you are, not something larger or smaller. It takes time to arrive at this position, but it is worth it.
In a famous poem, Percy Bysshe Shelley describes just the opposite, a terrifying monarch from the past. The following words appeared on a broken-down pedestal lying all by itself in the desert:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.**
Human beings have to become what they really and truly are: small. By means of waiting we find that, tiny as we are we are still offered the gift of openness to the real and consoling presence of God. No need to dress in fine clothing or live in royal palaces (Gospel).
Jesus asks us to become what we are.
To be humble.
John Foley, SJ
*I wrote a Church song called “Patience, People” that has these words of the farmer. The translation I used was:
See the farmer await the yield of the soil.
He watches it in winter and in spring rain.
**See Shelley, Osymandias.
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University