My daughter has a slow fuse. It will serve her well when she is a pastor, because she really is slow to anger. Sometimes, after an unhappy confrontation, she discovers hours later that she is really annoyed. To her credit, she is able to go back to whomever she’s angry with and talk about it in a thoughtful way. I’ve always admired her patience, and her willingness to hang in there with people, even when she’s upset with them.
It is day 5. Winter has returned; plummeting temperatures, however, have not silenced the songs of returning birds. The last few days they have been singing happily. Lent takes its name from the lengthening days. Patiently impatient, we wait for spring.
Birds and trees, sheltering growth, nurturing, and fierce protective love all appear in the next two Sunday Gospel lessons: Luke 13: 31-35; Luke 13:1-9. Both weeks’ readings reveal something of Jesus’ spiritual life, his fearless honesty, his patience and passion for God’s people. This week, Jesus yearns for Jerusalem’s children, he says, as a mother hen seeks to protect her young. Next week, he tells a parable of patience, in the story of an ever hopeful gardener unwilling to pull up a tree he has been raising, though it seems barren. Jesus, the mother hen gardener, servant-son of God, persists in patient compassion toward us.
Think of all the situations that could be transformed if just one person showed something of the patient compassion Jesus embodied. Bonhoeffer called Jesus “the man for others.” Patience lets us be present for others without trying to “manage” them. Patience is the opposite of anger; it lets go of the need to be right, to be in control, to be in charge, to dominate, to coerce. Patience is an attitude of trust, rather than anxiety. Patience is also the fruit of compassion, we heard a few weeks ago from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, a love that bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things.
We often recall, in our church, the endurance of the Finnish people who founded it. The Finns call such endurance “sisu.” It’s a kind of physical and spiritual fortitude, that endures through, and in despite of, extreme hardship. We tend to admire the strength of character people with “sisu” show. But no one has the kind of sisu God has. He is, after all, the maker of sisu, the origin of fortitude. Patient as a gardener, enduring as a mother, clear-eyed God sees us, our faults and failures. Clear-eyed God goes on loving us, regardless.
Patient compassion, then, might be a spiritual discipline for Lent, (and for the rest of the year), practiced daily in regard to all that tries us in our relationships, perhaps especially toward those closest to us, perhaps even toward ourselves.