We are an impatient lot. But even in our restlessness and petulance, we are not forgotten.
This is a lesson I encountered in various ways this past weekend, spent in the company of men — inside Menard Correctional Center — who know a lot more about “doing time” than I ever care to learn.
Now as far as I know, the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin never spent time in prison, but he knew something of this predisposition about which I speak.
One of Teilhard’s most celebrated reflections, entitled “Patient Trust”, includes this observation about human nature: “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.”
Maybe it’s always been that way. Jesus certainly encountered such a peevish impatience in the movers and shakers of his day – as we hear in today’s gospel passage: [They] said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
I can identify with their instinct: I tend to want answers, unambiguous answers. And as a rule, I’d much prefer to have my answers sooner rather than later.
But that’s not the way the Kingdom of God works. Very often, the Holy One offers us process instead of product. It’s as if God wants us to know that our life’s work is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. And we’re going to miss that subtle point about the Kingdom if we insist on rushing headlong toward the end.
In contrast, the men we ministered to on our Kairos Weekend, all of whom are doing hard time, seem to have learned something about NOT skipping the intermediate stages. Many have developed a curious relationship to time, which they see as a tool in God’s hands. It’s not a relentless taskmaster, as we tend to perceive time on the outside.
And so, I was moved to hear how one of our participants described his almost mystical experience of time following the many long months (and years) that he’s been waiting for Kairos to return to the prison. “We made it through,” he said. “We made it through COVID-19…all the way to Menard #18. We made it, and it’s been nothing but love this weekend. I learned so much that I can share with everyone around me. I’m a better man, a better friend, a better follower of God.”
Seems to me, this man has learned to accept the slow work of God, as Teilhard would say. By setting impatience aside, he now has seen with his own eyes how good things – the richest blessings – come to those who wait.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.