I’ve made Jan L. Richardson’s In the Sanctuary of Women a companion for me these past few weeks. Her short stories, reflections and poetry have slowly guided me into a deeper place that I have not ventured to go in my own spiritual journey. Sometimes grief [and unexpected life changes in general] force us to those places kicking and screaming. But I’ve been advised to sit in that space of unknowing, of sadness, of anger. So that’s what I’m doing.
Tonight’s piece from In the Sanctuary of Women–this whole chapter, in fact, is dedicated to Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard, like other visionary women through the centuries, invites us to daily seek and perceive God and the holy in our solitude, in community, in our relationships and places of being. The voice that called to Hildegard to “Say and write what you see and hear,” and to “Cry out therefore, and write thus!*” is a voice that I am heeding in this time. Thanks, also to Shannon and Sarah, for nudgings of this sage advice.
Hildegard dedicates Book Three of Scivias to the history of salvation symbolized in a building. In this building, several virtues stand together–two of which are Patience and Longing. In my own life, over the course of the past few weeks, these two have been at odds with one another. In my heart they do not stand together. They hate each other. If patience is the ability to bear all things as described in I Corinthians 13, then longing stirs in me the opposite of patience: the need to make a decision, to control the situation, to provoke and be hasty under strain or provocation. Longing has no place next to patience, I tell myself, because longing is a state that needs to be reconciled to fulfillment. Inherent in her is some desire–a fire for something that is not yet. I cannot imagine these two virtues having anything in common with each other, and therefore have no place standing side by side.
But as time moves and heals, I’m learning to sit in this space of unknowing and of longing. I am learning to let these feelings of anger, resentment, confusion, hurt and frustration sit in the deep place, as my younger and wise sister, Shalom, advises. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, I read in Romans 12:12. But experience cautions me not to hope in something or someone, when I’m not given a glimpse of the ‘not yet.’ In an age where answers are easy to find by googling something, it’s hard to stay in a place of unknowing. And for someone who has a tendency to want to fix a situation, to take care of the other, to find the answer, this space is uncomfortable. It’s masochistic.
But patience has something to teach me, too. She is graceful and isn’t so concerned with rushing time or forcing her hand on a decision. She, a byproduct of genuine love, bears all things and endures all things. Patience enables longing to be more bearable and tempers me so that I can lean into her when the longing I feel cannot be fulfilled in the ways or by the means that I want.
I’m learning to be comfortable standing shoulder to shoulder between patience and longing, holding their hands and walking forward together.