Abide with me...

I read a really potent chapter in Slow Church last night that warrants deeper reflection. In their chapter on patience, pastors Smith and Pattison note that the early Church embraced the practice of patientia:
Patience is how compassion is embodied in our lives...(It is not) passive waiting... Rather, patience means to enter actively into the thick of life and to fully bear the suffering within and around us. Defining patience this way reveals the error not only in avoiding the suffering of others, but also in trying to fix their suffering without entering into it. The road toward healing and reconciliation is the patient, compassionate way of Jesus.

The first thing that rings true for me in this deeper understanding of Christian patience is the insistence that it begins within our flesh. It is embodied love rather than abstract or elitist ideas. Later the authors put it like this: "We learn patience by forgiving and being reconciled to one another. Our brothers and sisters may incessantly annoy us. But we are called in Christ to love and be reconciled to them... we learn patience by immersion, journeying faithfully alongside those who are suffering. It's easy, for example, to lob advice or judgment when a friend's marriage is falling apart. It's more complex and more demanding to sit down with the couple, to listen, to work slowly and coversationaly toward healing, to celebrate reconciliation or to grieve a divorce (or celebrate I might add if that is best, too.)"

I can't tell you how many times I have heard well-intentioned church people offer their usually unsolicited advice/solution as the remedy to another's wound. Talk about disembodied but destructive arrogance! Or how about those who are certain the "church" should be involved in X or Y action for social justice? "It is just so CLEAR..." they insist without doing any of the hard work of listening and relationship building that authentic organizing requires. St. Paul was clear:  we are the BODY of Christ and we must KNOW one another before we have any clue about how to be helpful.

The second thing that grabs me about this understanding of patience is the way it challenges our aversion to suffering. If compassion is truly suffering with - if Christ's incarnation teaches us anything about the Word becoming Flesh and dwelling within and among us - then the time has come to forsake our phobia about embracing another's pain. "Clearly," Smith and Pattison write, "there are some sorts of suffering that should be overcome if we are able, but our call is to compassion - a word derived from the Latin meaning "to suffer with." The great tragedy of our technological success is not just that we've created a culture that avoids suffering, but that we have lost the capacity or willingness to enter into the pain of others."
We have, it would seem, become too adept at avoidance on a variety of levels. Henri Nouwen once defined impatience as "an inner restlessness... that experiences each moment as empty, useless and meaningless. It is wanting to escape from the hear and now as soon as possible." I've felt that - and I have bolted from that anxious boredom that feels like emptiness but is more often than not the call to go deeper more times than I care to confess - and my hunch is that many people in my church have done likewise. It is one of the social diseases of this moment in history - and the spirituality of Jesus offers an alternative.

The gospel of John puts these words in the mouth of Jesus: Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing... As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love... The biblical text uses the Greek word, meno, which means to rest deeply. To tarry or sojourn with. 

Another oblique Sabbath reference? Could be from where I am sitting at the end of my week in anticipation of tomorrow's Sabbath rest. What's more, I love the call to rest in the full grace of Christ's presence rather than my own fretting fabout what I think must still accomplished. 


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