October 10, 2013

Learn to labor, learn to wait


For those who follow the Christian calendar and its several seasons, this can be a strange time marked by fits of boredom and restlessness. The Day of Pentecost was way back on May 19th. Yet week by week we faithfully attend to what the calendar calls the Days After Pentecost. These are numbered sequentially according to week -- for example, this coming Sunday being the 21st Sunday After Pentecost. The season takes up fully half the calendar year, and won’t end this year until November 30th. So we get lulled into this sense that the events of Pentecost have long faded in the rear-view mirror and that the current season is interminably laid before us.

To be brutally honest about it, those of us moving through these seemingly featureless days on the Christian calendar may be duped into feeling we’re in a kind of nothing-time. There are no fresh memories of recent celebrations and not much to look forward to until we hit Advent. And Advent, of course, is when we talk about the value of patience.

I’m starting to think that we do a disservice to ourselves and the God we serve when we only talk about being patient during the season of Advent. What better time is there to ponder it than when we’re nearing the final throes of the longest season of the year, duped into thinking nothing in particular is going on?

It’s important to say that patience does not have to, nor should it, be the same thing as inertia and just sitting around waiting without purpose or aim. The very idea of patience implies, in fact, that we are in anticipation of something (whatever it may be) and that we have work to do in order to prepare ourselves and the world around us for it when it comes. This is ongoing effort!

Patience is active in many senses of the word; it assumes a wide measure of taking responsibility for our selves and helping each other along, not just holding out (or, worse, hiding out) until it comes. To put it in religious terms, as surely as God does God’s part when God does God’s thing, our anticipation and expectation of that Thing must be packed with the act of our being fit receptacles to carry the news of God’s activity in word and in deed. Christianity is not passivity; it is precisely the struggle of fighting through passivity and apathy. Proper patience gets us up and moving.

Bishop Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia is particularly adept at framing these kinds of issues. At a churchwide conference I attended in April, he said, “This is my greatest fear: we have a paralysis that’s allowing inertia just to carry us to whatever end we think it might carry us. The religious-industrial complex, which we built in the ‘50s and which served us well, will not get us to the next thing.” The indictment is clear: What in the world are we waiting for?

In the spirit of all that, ... this small word from Longfellow:

Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.

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