Tag Archives: Patience

The Still Hour


So beautiful is the still hour of the sea’s withdrawal, as beautiful as the sea’s return when encroaching waves pound up the beach, pressing to reach those dark rumpled chains of seaweed which mark the last high tide.
     We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships.  We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb.  We are afraid it will never return.  We insist on permanence, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth and fluidity–in freedom in the sense that dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.  The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping even.  Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.

Today’s reading from Celtic Daily Prayer suggests a problem many of us struggle with in our spiritual lives:  the gravitational pull of the past and present which distracts us from the current movement of the Spirit. I wonder if that’s not, in part, what Jesus had in mind when he said, “[I]f I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you.”  John 16:7.  As long as Jesus remained physically with the apostles, they were trapped in the memory of their failures or lost in their Messianic expectations for the future.  God had something quite different in store for them.

The past and the future bind us in a kind of Pushmi-pullyu struggle.  We hear this in our churches regularly.  “I really liked the music before they changed it” or “I’m really worried about the direction our new minister is moving the church.”  I think we do something similar in our own lives.  “I was not brought up in a home where reading the Bible was important so that’s just not a big part of my spiritual life.”  “Maybe once the kids are gone we will go to church more regularly.”  We feel the gravitational pull of the past and the present, sometimes longingly, sometimes full of anxiety, but always distracting us from the present moment.

Sometimes, we encounter the diversion of longing for a time when we felt really close to God, or when church offered a more meaningful experience.   In Letters to Malcolm,  C.S. Lewis compared this to shouting “Encore!” to God.  We tell the Almighty things were better before, and want Him to make it like it used to be.  Lewis wrote, “It would be rash to say that there is any prayer which God never grants. But the strongest candidate is the prayer we might express in the single word encore. And how should the Infinite repeat Himself? All space and time are too little for Him to utter Himself in them once.”

Whether we find ourselves diverted by the past or the future, we confront the difficulty of locating God (and ourselves) in the present moment.  The movement away from the immediate always assumes that God’s presence today will not suffice.  We go chasing after a richer yesterday or running away from a distressing tomorrow, and run the risk of overlooking the presence of the Spirit today.  Perhaps we undervalue the advice of the psalmist:  “Be still and know that I am God.”

Pax Christi,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

The Gift of Peace

     You cannot acquire the gift of the peace if by your anger you destroy the peace of the Lord.
     True patience is to suffer the wrongs done to us by others in an unruffled spirit and without feeling resentment.  Patience bears with others because it loves them; to bear with them and yet to hate them is not the virtue of patience but a smokescreen for anger.
     True patience grows with the growth of love.  We put up with our neighbours to the extent that we love them.  If you love, you are patient.  If you cease loving, you will cease being patient.  The less we love, the less patience we show.
     If we truly preserve patience in our souls, we are martyrs without being killed.

                                            –Gregory the Great, Defensor Gramaticus

I found this bit of wisdom in the reading for today in a wonderful little book, Drinking From the Hidden Fountain:  A Patristic Breviary.  Pope Gregory I wrote the reading for today.  The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox faith, the Anglican Church and some Lutheran churches recognize Gregory as a saint.  The first pope to spring from the monastic tradition, he is the patron saint of musicians, students and teachers.

Gregory was born around 540 A.D., and lived in very tumultuous times for the Church which included the defeat of the Roman Empire by the Goths, famine and a plague that killed over a third of the population.  The papacy was virtually forced on Gregory, who longed for the monastic life.  Although he was deeply interested in and involved with the liturgy, Gregory probably had no substantial involvement with Gregorian chant which bears his name.  (Gregorian chant was first written down in the early 9th century.)  He made extensive use of the title servus servorum Dei (servant of the servants of God) in official documents, revealing a deep and abiding humility.

In this short little selection from Gregory, we see a hint of his humility and catch a glimpse of why he was so deeply loved and revered.  Gregory points out how deeply our anger undermines the peace we so desperately long for and need.  Yet although we want peace in our lives, we just aren’t willing to let go of our anger and resentments.

He encourages us to turn to the ancient Christian virtue of patience.  St. Paul recognized patience as one of the gifts of the Spirit.  Gal. 5:22.  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:  “Patience is one of the humble, workaday virtues; but it is, in a real sense, the root and guardian of all virtues, not causing them, but removing obstacles to their operation. Do away with patience and the gates are open for a flood of discontent and sin.”

Long before psychology taught us about passive/aggressive behavior, St. Gregory described it:  “Patience bears with others because it loves them; to bear with them and yet to hate them is not the virtue of patience but a smokescreen for anger.”  Most anger arises from a lack of patience.  In fact, many of our intemperate statements begin:  “I’ve just about lost my patience with . . . . (insert the object of our rage here).”

Our impatience usually carries with it either an implicit message of our moral superiority or wrongs that we cannot or  will not release. We are so anxious to claim the moral high ground that we forget that Jesus blessed the poor in spirit and the meek rather than the righteously indignant. Patience requires the understanding that although our brothers and sisters may not yet be the people God intends them to be, neither are we.

St. Gregory correctly showed us the link between patience and love.  Again, Paul had noted this link in Scripture, writing:  “Love is patient; love is kind.”  Learning to love means learning and practicing patience.  Admittedly, it’s not my strongest gift, but I know that if I want to create a peaceful life and a peaceful world, that path begins with patience.

Pax Christi,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis