During this period, where we are unable to meet together in church, Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 17th May 2020.
All week I have been trying to think of a topic for my reflection today, and a word that has been coming back to me time and time again is the word ‘Patience’. (I’ll explain why in a moment.) So I’m not going to fight it – that’s my theme for today, and you will no doubt guess where I am going with this!
We have a saying: ‘Patience is a virtue’. Nobody is sure who coined the phrase. Some attribute it to the Roman soldier and senator, Cato the Elder, in the second or third century BC. Others attribute it to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Other countries have proverbs or sayings about patience. For example, the Chinese have a saying, ‘One moment of patience may ward off great disaster, one moment of impatience may ruin a whole life’. And there’s an old German saying, ‘Patience is a bitter plant, but it bears sweet fruit’.
If you go on the internet and look up the word patience on Wikipedia, you will find that this is how it defines patience: ‘Patience is the ability to endure difficult circumstances such as perseverance in the face of delay; tolerance of provocation without responding in annoyance/anger; or forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties. Patience is the level of endurance one can have before negativity. It is also used to refer to the character trait of being steadfast.’
An American businessman, Bill McGlashen, once defined patience more succinctly: ‘Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you, but not in the one ahead’.
The Bible has a few things to say about patience. For example, the writer of Proverbs, Chapter 25, says, ‘With patience a ruler may be persuaded.’ St. Paul says, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, ‘Love is patient’, and the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes says, ‘ … the patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit’.
I think that what prompted me this week to think about patience was a news report on the television on Tuesday about a (not particularly peaceful) demonstration in the USA by people demanding that the Government end the lockdown. (By contrast, a very small minority of British people seem to be going about the issue in a different way, by peacefully behaving as though there is no lockdown!)
It seems to me that during the coronavirus pandemic there appear to be two other pandemics running in parallel. One is called ‘Impatience’ and the other is called ‘Patience’.
The ‘Impatience’ virus affects people who are fed up with the lockdown and the restrictions it imposes, and they resent not being able to do all the social things they enjoyed doing before the lockdown. But it also affects those eager to get back to earning a living and those desperate to be reunited with their families again.
The ‘Patience’ virus, on the other hand, affects people who understand the severity of the present situation, who understand that the coronavirus won’t go away as a result of people returning to large social gatherings, and who understand that the battle to overcome the virus will take some time. There are, of course, those who are worried about going back to work but, as much as they would like to do so, they know that they must be patient, not only for their own sakes, but for the sake of protecting their families and other people generally. So they know that they have no alternative but to exercise some patience, and they just get on with things as best they can without complaining.
I am sure that many of the latter group will be gardeners. Gardeners know that if we plant seeds today, we don’t have fruit and vegetables tomorrow. It takes time to produce the results that we look forward to. We have no alternative but to be patient.
It will be the same with the coronavirus pandemic. We can’t expect to be locked down today and have complete freedom tomorrow. We have to wait for nature to take its course, and for the medical and science professionals to have time to find a cure or a vaccine. There will be no instant results.
Sometimes, when I am talking to someone who has suffered a mental trauma, I try to encourage them to be patient by saying that a mental trauma is like a physical injury. If you break a leg, it doesn’t heal instantly. It takes weeks to heal. Likewise, if we suffer a mental trauma – bereavement, depression, or other mental condition – we can’t expect it to switch off instantly – nothing I or anyone else can say or do can switch it off for them. It just takes time for nature to heal. But what we can do is offer a bit of TLC, and encourage a bit of patience.
So we need patience to cope with the current coronavirus pandemic. I therefore suggest that, if during this coming week we learn of someone suffering from the Impatience virus, we resolve to contact them, to reassure them, offer a bit of TLC and encourage in them a sense of patience.
There is a group of books called the Apocrypha, which will be found in some Bibles. One of the books of the Apocrypha is call Ecclesiasticus, or Sirach, and it offers some wise words of reassurance about the benefits of patience: ‘Those who are patient stay calm until the right moment, and then cheerfulness comes back to them. They hold back their words until the right moment; then the lips of many tell of their good sense.’ (Ecclesiasticus 1:23-24)
So let’s be positive, let’s be patient. Impatience and worry will not destroy the virus, but they will destroy our own peace of mind. In one of the cells in the Tower of London, the following words were once scratched on a wall by a former prisoner: “It is not adversity that kills, but the impatience with which we bear adversity.” I am sure there is a grain of truth in that!
The Peace of the Lord be always with you.