Slowly, slowly. Polepole.
Our hosts in Kirangare, Tanzania said this over and over.
This Advent, I’m remembering not their words only but also their unhurried pace.
This is what polepole looks like.
It was Friday, September 16, 2022, on the walk from Makasa back to Kirangare. You see Pastor Simon Fue and evangelists from Makasa and Kirangare Lutheran Parishes in the front, Jasper John and Joseph Obleton in the back.
I’m behind the camera, amazed. I recorded the video so you could see how slow “slowly, slowly” really is. I’m not sure I would have believed it, except I was there where they set the pace for me.
So watch the video a few times. Imagine yourself walking with them. Feel your body moving, the footsteps. Stand up and cross the room. Try to imitate them. Polepole. Slowly, slowly.
I remember that walk back from Makasa and many other walks around Kirangare. I remember the tension in my body, which wanted to go much faster than my pace-setting siblings in Christ.
Advent is like a walk to Christmas. Yes, we “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” And the Way of the Lord is not just a road or a path—say between Makasa and Kirangare. The Way of the Lord is also how the way is walked. Including the pace.
What might the pace of the Lord be along the Way of the Lord?
I’m holding tension now, because I’m pretty well convinced that the pace of the Lord is closer to our sibling’s pace than my default pace. The Lord’s invitation to me is to Slow. The. Heck. Down.
In fact, we just talked about this at Zion’s November council meeting. Our excitement, sparked by the listening campaign, set us running. New projects. New teams. New activities. And now we feel in our bodies and souls: this is not a sustainable pace. As if Jesus is saying, Slow. The. Heck. Down.
These are Advent wake up calls! Right on time.
Every wake up call I’ve ever received is followed by a dawning realization: how big the problem is, how often it crops up, how really addicted I am—in this case, to hurry. With these realizations, I can get overwhelmed. Angry at myself and others. Discouraged, despairing, even giving up.
But here again is that old pace problem.
For example, I set a pace for my kids, my family. How long “should” packing a backpack take, or putting on pajamas, or walking to school, or responding to my requests? Am I right to expect the pace I expect? How am I contributing to the problem? What can I do differently—inner and outer changes—to be less hurried, more patient, even to let my kids set the pace sometimes? What would I notice? Who might I become? Can my soul be at rest, even when we must move quickly?
And what about when it comes to me? My pace, not just moving through the day and checking tasks off the to-do list, but also in making change in my own life, becoming more like the person I think God wants me to be. Am I right to expect this pace I expect?
“Your awareness is your greatest asset,” a mentor once told me. And another, “Direction, not speed.”
We live in a culture addicted to hurry. Time is money. “Get it done yesterday” is the boss.
I can’t slow down all by myself. I need a community, neighbors, strangers, a whole world to slow down too. And sometimes slowing down shows what we owe others—taking on stress and busyness for their sake, so they can find the rest they’ve been denied.
Hurry is not just a spiritual problem. It has many more than spiritual solutions. Not charity alone but also justice, which (in the words of Cornel West) is what love looks like in the public square.
I remember the news story that came out just before Christmas many years ago. The single mom who worked three jobs stopped in a snowy parking lot to take a nap between one job and the next. It was late at night. She didn’t have time to go home. The temperature dropped. The car heater failed. And that Advent night, she froze to death.
This is the cost of our collective addiction to hurry. Some people die. Some people work through the pain. Some people live as strangers to the others in their own household. Some people struggle with anxiety and depression. Some people treat other people like things, obstacles slowing me down. Some people find themselves alone and isolated—left behind or pushed aside when they can’t or don’t want to “keep up.” Some people make a lot of money off of all this hurry and stress. And the planet burns.
Counting the cost and feeling the loss takes time. Hurry is a way I hold it at bay. Outrun the hurt. Make myself tough, untouchable, invincible.
But love is what truly makes us invincible, not feats of speed and strength and stamina. On Christmas love came down in a baby named, Jesus. To parents who had to hurry to Bethlehem to obey the decree an impatient Emperor. In Jesus, God came down, the anti-Emperor, to win over a world the polepole way—slowly, slowly—with love, not violence or impossible deadlines.
Ultimately, this child is the greatest gift. Not the message, “Slow down.” A road sign can’t save us. But a flesh-and-blood pacesetter, with all of heaven’s love, who is indeed the creator of the universe (the physical structures of which we call “time”), and who indeed rose from the dead, undid the last deadline, and carried us to Paradise. Truly, this is who we need.
So, yes, Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord. But polepole. Slowly, slowly. Linger this Advent, when you can. Try a less hurried pace, for your own sake as well as for the sake of your neighbors.
Thanks be to God.
Pastor Clark Olson-Smith
Credit: the cross or “hospital” icons above were created by Freepik and hosted by Flaticon.