One of the classical themes of Advent is patience, the virtue ascribed to Mary and urged by the prophets upon Israel. But patience comes to me as easily as vegetarianism to a lion. From the looks of our lives, I seem to have abundant company. We are all busy, laboring diligently, noisily, impatiently to usher in a new and presumably improved life on earth. . . .
Among the derivations of the word "patience" is the Latin word paene, "almost." There is an "almost" quality to patience that bears attention, precisely because it challenges our drive to achieve perfection, fulfillment. Learning to live with the "almost." That doesn't come easily. . . .
Struggling to achieve what we believe to be true and noble, locked in combat against time and decay, we rush to accomplish all things and savor few. Yet in Advent we are called to sit quietly in the dark and peer into deepest night, abiding in the almost, looking for the light. But it does not come easily, and we do not usually go there willingly. It usually comes by force of sheer exhaustion, when energy is gone, no option remaining.
When I survey the greatest gifts of my life, I must admit they were not found in the busy rush of accomplishment. The greatest gifts, like the call to serve as a priest, the wonderful people with whom I have shared life and ministry, the profound love freely offered by others - these all came quietly, in the almost. Exhaustive activity, insistence on my own will and accomplishment, these have been barriers between me and the God who loves me, the people in whom God loves me. The gifts have come unbidden, in the darkness, sitting sometimes alone, sometimes with others, in the almost, searching the void for a sliver of light, a glimpse of the whole - closer to God, and one another, when we are sharing a vision than when we are fighting for one.
From Daysprings: Meditations for the Weekdays of Advent, Lent, and Easter by Sam Portaro (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2001).
With thanks to Vicki K Black