Patience as a practice is, for me, inseparable from the activities it makes possible: waiting, listening, and empathy. More than any other necessary ingredient along the spiritual journey, I have seen it only as the condiment, never the main course. That is, until I think about the differences between my two beagles, Gracie and Joy, and the way they approach their favorite pastime – fly hunting.
In our 50+ year-old house, screens are an exception instead of the rule. And, we have been known to leave the door wide open for convenience from time to time -- hence the occasional visit from the local housefly population. Both Gracie and Joy are obsessed with these winged creatures – both snap to attention when they detect the slightest buzz. That, however, is where the similarities end.
Gracie, who is no longer with us on this earth, took the “wait and see” approach to fly hunting, particularly as her days with us drew to a close. Even when the pain from her cancer was so great that she could barely stand, the presence of a fly brought back her puppy-like demeanor. She sat, rigid, on the sofa, at full attention, and waited. Her patience for the task was unending—she would sit and wait however long it took for that fly to forget that she was there. In that moment, the unsuspecting insect would come just a little too close to her soft muzzle and, with one great clack of those jaws, disappear down her throat. For her patience was an action. And her act of patience was rewarded.
Joy, the new beagle resident in our home, does not understand the meaning of patience at all. Once the fly is spotted, she follows it – over me, over the back of the sofa, under the table, on top of the table – I think you get the picture. And long after I have sent the offending creature to fly-heaven, she follows the scent, unconvinced that I have rid us of its pesky presence.
I think, perhaps, that most of us have more in common with Joy than with Gracie. We lack the practice of patience, we lack the idea of patience as an action and therefore, we lack the ability to wait peacefully. We fail to hear the words of the Psalmist clearly: “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him (Ps. 37:7).” Gracie knew what Joy does not – that an act of patience means making space for possibility, sitting quietly with attentiveness as you wait. But the Psalmist knew. Before that writer reminds us to be still, the command that must occur before that stillness is made clear: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him, and he will act. (Ps. 37:5).
To sit with another on the journey, we must embrace the active nature of patience, patiently waiting, just like my Gracie – every muscle poised for the first hint that God has come near. It is our patience that makes space for the work of the Holy Spirit.
Susan Sevier is a writer, teacher, singer and storyteller.