Saturday, July 14, 2012

Column: The cost of patience is slowly rising from the ashes of the Catholic Standard and Times. This is my first column for CatholicPhilly...

The quote from Eliot's Four Quartets at the end was tucked into a letter sent to me by a friend while I was on retreat earlier this year. Chris has never been the soul of patience (though he's prompted me to write about it more than once), and I will admit that I was as anxious to know the results of his exam as he was (both as his mother and his teacher.)

The other thing I remember waiting for in summer was the ice cream truck, a once-a-week treat which taught me discernment and indifference both. Which treat? And what if my favorite ice cream truck didn't come?

Like the dear that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the face of God?

Ps. 42:2-3

What is the price of patience? Thirty-eight cents a day, by my son Chris’ calculation. That was the price he was willing to pay to not have to wait three weeks to find out his score on his AP Chemistry exam.

There’s not much need for patience in the modern world, as long as you’re willing to pay the price. Ordering a book from Amazon? “Choose local delivery and you can have it today!” appears in an encouraging green. Want it even faster? A click and it appears in on my e-reader. Waiting is a waste of time.

Or do we pay more than just money to avoid a wait?

Summer when was I was young was all about waiting. Waiting for the change in pitch of the motor on the turquoise churn that meant a batch of my mother’s homemade vanilla ice cream was ready. Waiting for the raspberries to ripen. Waiting for it to be dark enough for the fireworks.

Summer’s waiting was about recognizing the moment when something was truly ready — not ‘nearly ready,’ not ‘ready enough,’ but fully ripe and sweet.

This sort of waiting always feels to me like a small dose of agere contra, the pushing back that St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended when we are overanxious and tempted to take shortcuts. Feel like cutting your prayer time short? Stay an extra five minutes instead, advises Ignatius. In a hurry to get to work and stuck in the Route 202/I-76 confluence? Let that car merge in front of you. Don’t pick the raspberry until it is ripe.

I remember sitting on the porch steps waiting for the ice cream to finish (in truth hoping that my mother would let me lick the paddle, an infrequent treat in a large family). I didn’t wander off to watch television, or read a book. I watched and waited, my longing ripened by my contemplations.

All these years later, I can still smell the sharp scent of salt and ice, taste the vanilla and cream, feel the roughness of the blue-flecked fiberglass bucket and see my mother’s hands as she carefully lifted the canister from the chilly brine.

In his reflection on this psalm of longing, St. Augustine remembers his own attention to what is around him, looking for God in his everyday experiences. He pondered what was around him, and longed until he had poured out his soul, until all he had left was his desire to see the face of God.

Those summer waits taught me how to long, how to let waiting be more than something to be endured. To learn to push back against the allure the immediate has, even if it is a bit bitter. To learn to thirst until I want nothing more — or less — than God. This is what patience pays.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
— T. S. Eliot from East Coker

Photo is from ByTheLivingRoominKenmore at Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Thank you for this meaningful post. Psalm 42 is one of my favourites as I have longed for God since I was a small child.

  2. It is one of my favorites, too...I know these lines by heart!