Sunday, August 7, 2011

Seven Virtues of Spiritual Life - Patience

There are, I believe, seven core virtues that we see in those who live a truly spiritual life: Patience, Lovingkindness, Forgiveness, Humility, Commitment, Trust, and Wisdom.

We all understand patience on one level – the simple ability to postpone a need for instant gratification or response.  I choose to not buy what I cannot afford until the money is saved.  I do not scold my child at my first irritation at his/her unruly conduct, but deal with that child first as a human being simply lacking understanding.  I do not speak out harshly at an employee’s unintended error, but use that opportunity to teach and counsel to a higher level of performance.  We resist our first impulse, reach for a higher response, and thereby create an action of greater value to ourselves, and very often to others.  An immediate stimulus does not lead to an immediate response; instead we choose the response we will make.

Patience asks us to see and think in the long view.  In the very broadest view.  In God’s view.  God may have made the heavens, earth, humankind and all of nature’s creations and forces in only seven days, but that is thankfully not the standard of accomplishment asked of us.  Our days are much shorter in scale, our potential for accomplishment similarly reduced.  Patience measures human civilization in thousands of years, tens of thousands of ancestral generations, and understands all of the difficulties and hardships that have filled all of those many lives. 

Human existence remains imperfect even after all of this time, experience, and the many lessons both learned and not yet learned.  It will remain imperfect long after I die.  But maybe just a wee bit less imperfect if I can make just that slightest difference in the piece of the world that I occupy, in the people with whom I come into contact.  I will not single-handedly change the world, but I can single-handedly add one small stone to the aggregated mosaic of human evolution.

Patience gives me the understanding that the decisions and the actions that I take are important, but only so much so.  My impact on my child’s life is huge, yet also very limited.  My happiness is important, but can be satisfied by so many smaller moments and fewer things if I am patient enough to accept things as they come.  The life road that I travel seems endless on my clock, yet is a mere blip in Time’s calendar.  I understand that my journey, while rich in memories, will ultimately take me only so far from where I began at birth.  When I am tempted to frustration, or even anger, at the events of my surroundings, Patience restores my sense of grounding and straightens out many of the curves in the road.

So in Patience we expect far less from moment to moment; expectations of myself, of others, of the collective institutions of our human society.  In Patience we live less hurriedly, decide more thoughtfully, move less rushed, yet waste less time.  We make the most of each moment, knowing that our moments are limited.  We appreciate the good when it occurs, and leave the shortcomings to another day, another generation, perhaps another lifetime of our own.  Patience knows that what is lacking today will be corrected tomorrow, or in someone’s tomorrow, as we continually try and try again.  Until it is ultimately made perfect within God’s expanded pacing of Time, and through God’s unlimited Patience with us, which we seek to emulate in ourselves.