Monday, March 24, 2008

It is possible that God says every morning "Do it again" to the sun

Still thinking about what Melissa wrote about the "good" and "bad" kinds of patience:

I think when we talk about patience in terms of a quality we don’t feel like we possess (”I used to be so patient”), we are talking about a kind of patience that isn’t really a virtue at all. That kind of patience is about enduring the present moment until a better one comes along. It’s a gritting-one’s-teeth-and-getting-through-it state of mind.

It’s how many of us endured countless hours of our lives in school. The kids who didn’t patiently endure were the ones labeled troublemakers. Patient endurance is how most people get through hours in line at the DMV, or (to poke my own self here) the interminable waits in doctor’s offices. There is no moment-savoring going on in that kind of patience. In fact, often ‘being patient’ really just means ‘being quiet and not making a fuss’ while resentment or irritation is churning underneath.

I certainly have done this too. I served my time at school -- 17 plus years, but I will only count the first 13 as "doing time" because after that I had a bit more choice. And I too have served my time at the doctor's office.

One of the seven capital sins in the Christian tradition is called "acedia". It is usually translated into English as Sloth which in turn gets translated in our productivity-oriented society as "laziness", but it means something rather different than laziness. Josef Pieper says (ht to the blogger at mind your maker):

“One of the most central concepts from the moral philosophy of the High Middle Ages is that of acedia, which we, very ambiguously and mistakenly, are accustomed to translate as “laziness”. Acedia, however, means this: that man denies his effective assent to his true essence, that he closes himself to the demand that arises from his own dignity, that he is not inclined to claim for himself the grandeur that is imposed on him with his essence’s God-given nobility of being” (A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, p. 51).
He also says:

One who is trapped in acedia has neither the courage nor the will to be as great as he really is. He would prefer to be less great in order thus to avoid the obligation of greatness. Acedia is a perverted humility; it will not accept supernatural goods because they are, by their very nature, linked to a claim on him who receives them” (Faith, Hope, Love, p. 119).

I think the "bad kind of patience" that Melissa discussed relates a bit to acedia, or at least it does for me. Too often, I "serve my time" and endure what ought to be a delight. Thereby I lose the privilege of drawing closer to what I am intended to be. Thereby I close myself into a little box, limiting myself to finding delight in what I naturally have a preference for. Doctor's offices are one thing, but when I am bored and restless spending time with my little ones, or impatient about having to deal with the 100th quarrel or need in a day, that is something else. Like Melissa, I should know better than to take these joys as a given. If Aidan taught me nothing else, I should have learned that these very repetitions are privileges of the greatest magnitude.

Consequently, I loved what Melissa wrote in her comment box:

"My religion says to treat other people the way I would like to be treated: unschooling, as understood by Sandra and Joyce and others, is a way of living that out, day by day, moment by moment, with the people I have the most contact with. My religion says to “count it all joy,” every moment, even the tough ones, and to give thanks in all things. You can’t be thankful about things you don’t notice; being more observant and seeing something of interest in everything, everywhere is what lets you count it ALL joy."
These are all connected to something I'm thinking through right now, but that's the best I can do right now.

Aidan keeps calling me to look at how he can make his hotwheel cars zip down the race track to the "garage" he made out of an old doll house, and it reminds me of that quote from Chesterton, from The Ethics of Elfland, which also seems to have something to do with what I'm trying to think through:

The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.
I get tired when I think of trying to see the beauty in every face, or trying to deal with every hot wheel's plunging descent into the makeshift garage as if it were the first one. But my tiredness is not a mature thing, it's an old, decaying thing, and I am going to resolve to try to pay more attention to the small things, the beauty in the repetition and the simple.

If you look at the Parenting Peacefully page you'll see I have revisited this regularly through the years.

This has nothing directly to do with anything else but I found this "Rosary as Remedy" series and I liked it, so I wanted to make sure I put it down on the blog in order to remember it.


Marie said...


Thank you so much for articulating this point about acedia. This resonates with me a lot right now.

Anonymous said...

Wow Willa that's really powerful. Looked at in that way (as acedia) it really gives me pause. Yes I see it in myself I am sorry to say. Thanks for the nudge.

Rachel said...


First, I have to say that I LOVE your name. It is so beautiful.

Second, I can really relate to what you have written. I have such a hard time with repetition concerning the kids. I get bored and retreat and it looks like I am letting everyone do their thing, but really I am hiding and ignoring.

Since reading Lissa's posts, some beautiful yet painful posts by Marie, and now yours, I am starting to uncover something about myself that has bugged me for years, but I could never name. And it is this 'bad kind of patience' everyone is talking about. I don't enjoy the boring times I sometimes have with my kids, or anywhere else, I just suffer through it quietly (and even worse, often, not so quietly).

I have been in an apostolate called Familia for almost 4 years now. We are constantly reminded to 'count it all as joy' in our Catholic motherhood. In my inner most thoughts, however, I am counting much of it as misery.

These blog conversations are all so good. Like a gentle but firm slap in my face. I have been praying for some answers and it is so interesting how God chooses to reveal them.

Though I have no idea how it is to deal with a physically ill child(ren), I do have a child with manic-depression and dev/delays. In all honesty, he can be the hardest to patiently endure with joy.


Meredith said...

.coGreat thoughts Willa, you articulated it beautifully!

Melissa Wiley said...

Willa, this is really moving. And helpful. Thanks. I am learning so much from this conversation!

Faith said...

Willa, wow, you can really put into words such wisdom. I love the way your mind can pull together so many disparate (seemingly) things and weave them together into such a deep,spiritual lesson.

The other day (Holy Thursday) I said the rosary and prayed the whole time for patience, which I had been severely lacking in for a long while. I have gotten in the habit of being impatient. And that whole day, I felt so calm and so centered in Christ. But on Good Friday I was back to my old tricks. I went to confession on Holy Thursday and the priest was wonderful. He said that God will give the graces needed if we are open. He said, to just repeat the words of the Our Father, "give us this day our daily bread" Since then, whenever I feel irritation coming on (or often right after the irritation has reared its ugly head and I'm pulled up short by it) I have repeated that line to myself over and over. It's been helping.

God does grant the graces, but it is so hard to keep the heart open to them.

Karen E. said...

Just beautiful, Willa. This whole conversation is a treasure.