by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
From Hearts on Fire: Praying with the Jesuits, edited by Michael Harter, SJ
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.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
|Fr. Thomas King, SJ|
Every time I read anything by Teilhard, I hear it in the voice of Fr. Thomas King, a Jesuit priest and professor whom I was blessed to know while at Georgetown. From the 1960s up to the time he died in 2009, Fr. King taught theology and offered a student Mass every day except Saturday at 11:15pm. He was tall and thin, with a mop of white hair when I knew him. He had a twinkle of delight in his eyes, his voice was hoarse when he spoke, and he accented the words of his sermons by leaning forward with outstretched arms and splayed fingers—his classic pose. His teaching, both in class and from the pulpit, captivated my mind and spirit.
|Pierre Teilhard de Chardin|
Teilhard de Chardin was Fr. King’s favorite. He wove Teilhard’s writings and ideas into every course he taught, and would reference him at the slightest opportunity. In my imaginings, Fr. King secretly was Teilhard—I mean, you can see the resemblance, right? I don’t remember Fr. King ever reading this poem in a class, but it fits so well with what I knew of him. So often, in my 19-year old longing for instant answers and transformation, I wished that he would just open up his storehouses of wisdom once and for all so I could skip over those pesky “intermediate stages” and reach instant enlightenment. Of course, he didn’t. He measured his words. He only said so much. Though he was generous in spirit and taught all the time, there was never a sense of “undue haste.” Like Teilhard, Fr. King knew about the slow work of God. He knew about the “new spirit gradually forming” in his students. And even in the face of my youthful impatience, he taught me about patient trust, and helped me to accept, just a little more, the “anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
|Photo above by Robbie Pruitt|
Traveling through Haiti, the visual signs of a country “in suspense and incomplete” are all around. Of course, there are clear marks left from the earthquake, slowly undergoing reconstruction. Some parks are in the process of being cleared of tents. Some businesses are in the process of being rebuilt. The deflated domes of the National Palace are in the process of being demolished to make way for new ones. But, there are many other signs that have little to do with the earthquake. Both before the earthquake and since, almost every other little house is also a construction site. While the family lives in one room, another room is half-built out back. Or, while they live in two rooms, a third is foretold on the second story by jutting-out rebar and a partial wall. A little money comes in and the project is continued by another spurt towards completion.
When we were visiting Mirlande’s house a few weeks ago, we stood on the roof together with an aerial view of her home and neighborhood. “We were able to buy this land a few years ago, and we just build a little bit to have a roof over our heads,” she explained. “It’s still in progress, you know.” She pointed out the two adjoining areas—currently separated by half-walls, either open or covered with a tarp. “One day, this will be a room for the girls. The next one will be a guest room so friends can come for the weekend. I want to put a ‘hygienic toilet,’ [meaning, flush toilet] over in that corner.” As she spoke I could see that the vision was clear in her mind. She dreamed of it to the point she could see it almost as reality. But, for now, she is waiting.
|Photo above by Robbie Pruitt|
And so, surrounded by outward signs of the process of becoming, I celebrate Advent, passionate waiting encapsulated into a season. I remember that I, too, am part of a people who live in the tension of “already” and “not yet.” I think of Mary, in those final days of pregnancy—eager to the point of discomfort, wild with anticipation, and yet, patiently waiting as mothers must for the moment when the child within them chooses to be born. And so it is with me—so it is with us. We pray. We yearn. We long. For restoration. For peace. For justice. For God’s kingdom to come. For a new heaven and a new earth. For those words promised from the throne, “It is done.”
Until then, we wait. Expectant, we trust in the slow work of God. Together, we ease into learning to accept that vague feeling of anxiety that Teilhard, Fr. King and Mary all understood so well, of being in suspense and incomplete.