By Rev. Anna Blaedel
“Be patient with all that is unresolved in your heart…” wrote Rainer Maria Rilke.
These words are easy to hear and heed, I am convinced, only if there is nothing unresolved in your heart. And who among us lives without pain, fear, loss, hope, possibility, dreams…unresolved? What is unresolved in your heart?
I confess, I am not very good at patience. And there is so much unresolved in the world’s heart. I long for immediate solutions, immediate justice, immediate transformation, immediate healing, immediate clarity, immediate liberation from complex systems of violence, degradation, and harm. The urgency of this longing needs to be taken seriously. Lives are at stake. We feel urgency when we recognize all this is being irrevocably lost, destroyed, in and around us. We are making history, every day, and I fear and grieve the realities and legacies we are making. And yet. I keep hearing the Divine whisper those words of Rilke’s during my prayer time: Be patient, dear one(s), with all that is unresolved in y/our collective heart…
In “In Praise of Patience,” Samira Thomas explores how resilience is often framed as the only—or best—way to bear sorrow and heal from trauma. “The interest in resilience comes from wanting to help people to bend, rather than to break, and learning from those who seem to have not broken,” she writes. Resilience comes to be associated with strength, determination, bouncing back, healing quickly and completely. Patience, too often, can masquerade as tolerating what should not be tolerated. The call to be patient can be a denial of suffering—a refusal to risk necessary confrontation—when said by someone with no skin in the game. But practicing patience is not tuning out, turning away, passively acquiescing, numbing ourselves to the violence of the world (when we have the privilege and option of doing so.)
My mother tells the story of my great-grandmother, a Czech immigrant, sitting at the kitchen table each night while her daughter, my grandmother, spent hours on her schoolwork. She’d sit, a woman who always had unfinished work waiting, with her hands folded, quietly offering presence. She didn’t know English, didn’t have much formal education; there wasn’t much she could do. But she let her daughter know she cared, that she mattered and her education mattered, that she wasn’t alone in this often incomprehensible world.
Remember Rabbi Tarfoun’s words, in response to Micah 6:8. “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
We cannot quickly undo the horrors unfolded and unfolding in the world. And so much is truly at stake. Sexual predators courting positions of high power, defended and legitimized by other abusers who flagrantly celebrate their power to destroy, manipulate, and demean. (Yes, I’m talking Kavanaugh, and Trump. But sexualized & racialized violence run devastatingly broader and deeper than them.) Refugees heartlessly turned away from refuge and asylum in record and rising numbers. Families still separated, children still illegally detained, parents still needlessly deported. Economic growth for the uber-wealthy prioritized over more equitable sharing and redistribution of resources for the common good, and protecting the planet we call home, a home that cannot bear our toxic consumption and growth much longer. Is now really a time to deepen our practices of patience?
The work of repair requires patience, even as we respond with urgency. Practicing patience calls us to slow down, and breathe deep, and remember that healing is long labor that does not conform to timescapes of immediacy, convenience, or speed. We are not obligated to complete the work, but nor are we free to abandon it. “We can all do small things with great love,” Mother Theresa reminds.
To be a patient is to be in need of healing, care. To be patient is to bear with all that is unresolved in our collective heart, our world, while laboring in fierce and tender care.
Poet Nayyirah Waheed writes:
telling the truth you could not face
struck instead of tended.
Impatience strikes; patience tends. The spiritual practice of patience is not about being patient with harm, but about unharming through the ongoing labor of extending care. It requires patience to keep tending to the truths we have barely begun to face.
‘Tell me of another world,’ the
says, ‘one where love is never
sad it loved…’
Be patient, dear ones, with all that remains unresolved in your hearts. Linger at the table. Tend patiently to what is breaking your heart, and together let’s dream of another world, and commit our care to the long labor of healing, and repair.