“A person’s single most important task is to discover the divinity of ordinary things, ordinary lives, and ordinary minds.”
– Aldous Huxley
In our society, we are always lauding the “patience of saints”. We see a preschool teacher peacefully smiling in a room of wild-eyed toddlers and we think, “She has the patience of a saint.” We see a nursing home attendant who listens with deep intent as a resident with Alzeimers asks for the twentieth time in so many minutes when lunch will be — and answers each time as if it were the first. “He has the patience of a saint,” we say.
But do you know what I think? I don’t think these people — or the saints we invoke — are patient at all. At least not in the way we think.
“Patience” implies that we are waiting for something to happen. Something bigger. Something more. Something brighter. Something better. “Patience” implies that that there is some obstacle in the path to where we are headed and that we are waiting for that obstacle to be moved. If we are patient, then we don’t lose our minds or our tempers. We either work at removing the obstacle or we wait for the obstacle to be removed for us — and if we are patient we do this while seeking to maintain our inner peace and equanimity.
Saints do that. The ancient ones and the modern ones. Or it least it appears that they do: faced with circumstances that would make any one of us crumble in despair or explode in frustration, they smile with deep wisdom or pause in deep regard.
What is it about saints? What is their secret? What do they have that we don’t have?
I think this is the secret: Saints aren’t waiting for anything.
What they are smiling at and what they are deeply regarding is the presence of the Divine. Even in difficulty. Even in suffering. Even in the face of seemingly immovable obstacles, the saint sees Divine presence. And once you are in the presence of the Divine, there is nowhere else to go. There is no need to push, to press, to plead, to anguish.
This is why Mother Teresa worked tirelessly in the face of poverty and disease. Why Martin Luther King held his peace in the presence of rabid racism. Why the Dalai Lama smiles in the midst of the exile and persecution of his people. This is why the Buddha sat with equanimity in his certainty of suffering and death. This is why Jesus asked for mercy for his persecutors. This is why Rabbis during the Holocaust offered gratitude for the opportunity to be of comfort to their people.
Saints do not push through moments of pain, moments of difficulty, or even what we might consider ordinary, humdrum moments — because in each moment the Divine is being revealed. And once you are in the presence of the Divine, where are you going to rush off to?
Saints know that pain is an opportunity to express compassion. Expressions of intolerance and hatred are opportunites to plant seeds of justice. And that all ordinary moments, ordinary people, and ordinary thoughts that pass through our day are simply disguises for the Divine.
Saints are neither patient nor are they impatient. They are non-patient. Because they know that all the things we seek after, run after, and push for are already there — patiently waiting to be revealed.