I just finished the good ol’ book—that best of all books: the Holy Bible—for the first time I might add. Now for a lesser man this might be a thing of shame since it is a book I not only claimed to have completely followed most of my life, but maybe even to have completely read most of my life. But I am no lesser man. No indeed! I am a great man of indignity who wears his shame on his sleeve and excuses himself faster than Adam. I am a great, laborious reader; travailing much against laziness; with a mind inclined to fantasize; complaining much against dim lighting. So, though I am late, though I am unfaithful and wretched, I celebrate! I remark the unremarkable! Full of shame, I am yet shameless before my author. The last to join the millennia-long parade of the lamb, I dart ahead of it, cartwheeling through the city. Look down on me from your tower of contempt if you will, I will not see. For I am proud of my God and His ancient work that works still.
And this is what I should tell you!
As I came over the last hill of Paul’s epistles I gazed upon a golden city. Between lay an epilogue of sorts; a gentle slope. At the bottom, pinned against the high gate, just before The End, the cosmic battle raged and stars fell from the sky. And I saw something I had never seen before, both in the gentle slope and the uproarious finale. The last biblical writers referred to it over and over, calling Jesus by an attribute I had never before heard nor considered. At first it was like a sound in a forest of a creature or running water. It was immeasurable, disorienting, inconsistent. There, then gone. Then suddenly I saw it, right in front of me; standing as an hart; unworried, unworldly, unnaturally confident of his home; looking at me as a foreigner in his forest. A thing tall, crashing, and eternal as a waterfall. This thing! This crazy thing! was his patience.
Maybe I am wrong. Even now it seems I may have dreamed it. But I think not. Why it should surprise me if the writer of Hebrews, or James, Peter, Jude or John should say something along the lines of, “Look! There it is! Did you see it?! The Patience of Jesus!” I can not say. Yet it did.
Maybe it is because the gospels spring out of nowhere. Maybe it is their shortness. Maybe it is because Jesus springs out of nowhere and departs shortly. Maybe his surprise and brevity—things no more a sign of impatience than over-predictability and overgrowth—felt impatient. Maybe, and most likely, I was impatient. Whatever the case, I had heard Jesus called many wonderful things. I had heard him expressed in intimate relation to his acts: everyday acts, but of his particular and divine type. I had heard of his strength, his love, his peace, his truth, his way, his life, his zeal, his kindness. But I had never heard of his patience. Taking the last books as a whole, I could only conclude those disciples who saw him first-hand apparently counted Jesus’ patience as one of the wonders of the world. They write as if there was anything that could stop a runaway train or kill the dragon that blots the stars, it was Jesus’s patience. They seem to huddle together and whisper to us as if we are sitting at the last dinner table and point at their friend who never put his own heart one beat before his Father’s. John tells of it at the beginning as it must have been told to him by Jesus: Alone in the wilderness; when in great hunger; when in great need; He would not be tempted. He would not tempt. He would would wait. At each turn would he answer his enemy thus: “No, Tempter, I’ll wait for my Father.”
The disciples who first saw the Holy Family; who walked and dined with them; who roomed in the houseless home of “I and My Father are One;” tell us to the end, from Capernaum to the cross, of a son who knows his Father; knows he gives what is needed the moment it is needed— and not a moment before.
“And, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.”
As I climbed the spiraling stairs to the city on the hill, I turned and looked back at the battle at the gate. I looked back at the distant slope and the hart and the waterfall; I looked back at John and Jude and Peter and James and Hebrews; and I saw them bathed in gold. There below me, and far and wide around me, was the enduring solidness and joy of patience.