“We live in a culture in which our first reaction and response to something we don't like or are uncomfortable with is to want to change it. We want it to go away...so we want to change it. What we have not learned to do is to give ourselves the space and time to simply observe it as it is, to make friends with it.” —Zen Buddhist priest, Rev. angel Kyoto williams in her book, Radical Dharma
I have the fruit of the Spirit on my mind, these days after Pentecost. Especially, patience.
The “Fruit of the Spirit” Christian camp song that I learned listed all of them—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And patience was sung like this, Paaaaaatience!
What better way to make the meaning clear than to hold the note and sing it long and slow. Though it’s a lesson I needed repeated. Or so thought a colleague of mine, when she felt I--as a pastor bringing confirmation students to camp—was in too big of a hurry. She sang her playful rebuke, “The fruit of the Spirit are Love, Joy, Peace, Paaaaaatience!”
She was right. Rev. angel Kyoto williams is right too. It’s a practice of patience to give that kind of space and time. Isn’t it patience to simply observe what we don’t like or are uncomfortable with? Isn’t it more than patience? How many fruit of the Spirit are involved in making friends with what (or who) we dislike and find discomforting? All of them?
Several years ago, I was living a life of extreme impatience. My Google calendar from that time is jam packed with back to back to back meetings and commitments and responsibilities. There’s a song from the hit musical, “Hamilton,” called “Non-Stop.” One line always catches me with a sting of truth: “Why do you write like you're running out of time?” Why was I pastoring like I’m running out of time?
I was in such a compulsive autopilot mode that I couldn’t begin to say why. But one day, I woke up to the real cost. Or I started to. With years of perspective at a slower past, I can see better now how back then, I lost myself. I lost touch with my family. I lost touch with God. I reached out to a mentor, as God started waking me up, and she became my spiritual director. Every month for over five years we’ve met via Zoom: she from upstate New York, me from Iowa. And she asks about my spirit and how the Holy Spirit is moving around me and within me. She checks in to make sure I’m maintaining a discipline of giving myself space and time to simply observe what is, to make friends, to let God find me.
“Don’t push the river,” she reminded me just the other day. And then we reminisced about how—for all the pandemic’s disruption and devastation—the early lockdown phase brought real blessing. The people in my immediate circles were healthy, and I got a taste of life without a daily 90 minute commute. In no small way, it opened me to the call to Zion.
So I’m not so eager to “go back to normal.” And I worry about rushing to resume “normal” activities (or persisting in unsustainable, busy-making COVID adaptations). How can we heed St. Paul’s encouragement to “Live in the Spirit” and bear the fruit of the Spirit? When is activity just a shallow, compulsive replacement for what we really need—real community and communion?
Real community and communion are gifts of God. They are not our creations. The fruit of the Spirit are a byproduct of life lived in God’s gracious rhythms. There’s no shortcuts and no forcing it. Have paaaaaatience!
Thanks be to God.
Pastor Clark Olson-Smith