Word to the Impatient

There were many nuggets, stories and quotable quotes from last week's Festival of Faith and Writing, and I’m sure some of them will make it into sermons and future writings. Here's one.

The last presentation I attended was by Paula Huston, who presented on the topic “Writing as a Spiritual Practice”---incidentally, she did so with laryngitis. There was something fitting about preparing to leave the conference, about shifting my energies from festival to home... just as the words were diminishing into a whisper.

Huston spoke about waiting many years (thirteen?) for her novel to be published, and talked about struggling with impatience. I listened, but with a detached and clinical interest since impatience isn't  something I ever have to deal with.


She finally decided to get some spiritual counsel and talked to one of the monks at a monastery she often visited for retreats. She asked, “How can I have more patience?” He replied, “Your problem isn’t a lack of patience. Your problem is a lack of hope.”

There was a palpable “aha!” that reverberated in the room when she said that. She elaborated: if you trust the process, and you trust yourself, and you trust that all things are working together for wholeness and good and abundant life, then patience and peace are the truest response.

I think I love this, even though I want to test the limits of her view against the kind of impatience that presses for change. We're seeing that with the Columbia Seminary situation. Truth be told, I think the policy will change soon so that committed same-sex couples will have access to campus housing. Not soon enough, I know, for current students who are paying more for housing because they can't live on campus, and not soon enough for people who've been waiting for justice for years. Agitating for change seems like a holy impatience to me, a faithful discontent with the way things are.

Even so, I wonder whether it's possible to cultivate a patient impatience.

I've been tired and full since the Festival. Last night I wanted nothing more than to get the kids to bed and settle into my own with a book or two. But the kids were slow and needy, and every room I went into had yet another thing that needed to be done before I could read and rest. I know about resting when it's time to rest and not when the tasks are all done---I wrote a book about it---but this was stuff that couldn't wait. Like, giving the cat her medicine so she doesn't seize.

I was testy and impatient over all of these things. So I began to mull Huston's statement. What's going on when I am impatient? What's happening internally when I just can't wait to get to the next thing?

Maybe I am acting, in the words of Paul, as one without hope. Maybe I need to cultivate hope. But not hope that everything's going to be OK. I'm a fan of Vaclav Havel's understanding of hope, which is not the assurance that things will work out, but a conviction that things make sense, regardless of how they turn out.

My life---cat medicine and all---makes sense. There is a strange coherence to it. And there is no next thing. There is only the current thing, whether it's brushing James's teeth or writing a blog post or reading My Life in France. This I believe.