Monday, February 2, 2009
Man! Leave it to Henri Nouwen to try to make me better than I want to be or seemingly have the capacity to be. Just when I’m feeling impatient in the extreme with the City of Dallas and their treatment of the homeless and the pace of progress regarding change, he hands me this:
“Entering Actively into the Thick of Life”
“What, then is the compassionate way? The compassionate way is the patient way. Patience is the discipline of compassion… The words ‘passion’ and ‘patience’ both find their roots in the Latin word ‘pati’, which means “suffering.” The compassionate life could be described as a life patiently lived with others… If we ourselves are unable to suffer, we cannot suffer with others. If we lack the strength to carry the burden of our own lives, we cannot accept the burden of our neighbors. Patience is the hard but fruitful discipline of the disciple of the compassionate God.
At first this may sound disappointing. It really sounds like a cop-out. Each time we hear the word ‘patience’, we tend to cringe…
But true patience is the opposite of a passive waiting in which we let things happen and allow others to make the decisions. Patience means to enter actively into the thick of life and to fully bear the suffering within and around us. Patience is the capacity to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell as fully as possible the inner and outer events of our lives. It is to enter our lives with open eyes, ears, and hands so that we really know what is happening. Patience is an extremely difficult discipline precisely because it counteracts our unreflective impulse to flee or fight. When we see an accident on the road, something in us pushes the accelerator. When someone approaches a sensitive issue, something in us tries to change the subject. When a shameful memory presents itself, something in us wants to forget it. And if we cannot flee, we fight. We fight the one who challenges our opinions, the people who question our power, and the circumstances that force us to change.
Patience requires us to go beyond the choice between fleeing or fighting… It calls for discipline because it goes against the grain of our impulses. Patience involves staying with it, living it through, listening carefully to what presents itself to us here and now… [it] means stopping on the road when someone in pain needs immediate attention… overcoming the fear of a controversial subject… paying attention to shameful memories and searching for forgiveness without having to forget. It means welcoming sincere criticism and evaluating changing conditions. In short, patience is a willingness to be influenced even when this requires giving up control and entering into unknown territory.”
~~Compassion, Henri J.M. Nouwen, Donald P. NcNeill, Douglas A. Morrison