Last week I found myself driving straight into oncoming traffic, having turned the wrong way down a one-way street. Don’t worry, I’m ok, just embarrassed. There is no geographical explanation for this error. I’ve driven that neighborhood on my way to work hundreds of times. But it’s like my auto-pilot function stopped working. The directions for my life that were once intuitive are so no longer.
This feeling of dislocation is not limited to my morning commutes. I send emails to the wrong people. I miss Zoom calls regularly. I am less attentive to what my loved ones ask of me.
While each of these small inconveniences does not overwhelm me separately, the cumulative toll they take is significant. The task of having to mentally craft three contingency plans for every worship service, event, and school day wears me down.
I want clarity. I either want to go back to my life and ministry as they were before; or forward into a new rhythm of life and ministry that can be relied upon.
But we can neither drag our lives back, nor force them forward.
Can you relate to this impulse to resolve things? What emotions arise in your body as you seek to do so? I am often irritated – at myself and others. I am exhausted. I am forlorn.
I am impatient.
Our biblical ancestors faced similar challenges of dislocation during the Babylonian exile. And they articulated feelings of rage, despair, and confusion to God amidst it. The Psalms, the book of Lamentations, and other scriptures give us permission to be upset about the situation in which we find ourselves. The Bible tells us that this is not the first time God’s people have lost their worlds.
And at the same time that the exilic prophets lament, they paradoxically invite God’s people into patience. They beckon the exiles to make a home in the in-between space. As Jeremiah says to the Babylonian exiles, “Build houses and live in them…plant gardens and eat what they produce.” To be clear, “patience” does not mean settling for situations of injustice, or passively surrendering our call to love God and neighbor. But I wonder if it is a call to a less certain, but still active posture of trust in the face of chaos.
When I can close my office door and sit for a few minutes of silence and prayer, I see more clearly. I see that my irritation and impatience is a visceral demand for answers that do not currently exist. I breathe deeply. I try to look calmly at our current location: we are in between. We’ve let go of one trapeze and are hanging in the air, not having grabbed the other bar toward which we are sailing yet. There are not answers for what family, church, and society look like, because this very day we are co-creating the newest forms of these communities with God. With this realization, the Holy Spirit gifts to me the smallest measure of patience; the choice to loosen my grip and “accept the anxiety of feeling in suspense and incomplete.”
How are you reacting to dislocation? How might you respond in self-compassion right now? As a closing practice, I invite you to pray the below prayer from early twentieth century Jesuit priest and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”