“A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains” (old Dutch proverb)
I’m writing this on wet day in June (come on summer!) drinking a cup of tea, gazing two postcards from our recent trip to Italy. The first one depicts a typical ‘piazza’, with tables and chairs set out under the dappled shade of the plane trees overhead, and a waiter serving two espressos and pastries, to a couple who are just calmly watching the frenetic world go by. As I stare at this scene, I feel I am back there with them, waiting at a table just out of view for the waiter to bring us our order, so we too can just wait and see…..
And for a moment or two I’m transported back to Milan, just near the Duomo (cathedral). It’s a beautiful scene with ancient buildings, a huge square and magnificent architecture and history all around. And the people…. like ants scurrying around: tourists of all nationalities, school parties, business men and women zig-zagging through the throng on their ‘city-bikes’. The sun beats down around our shaded parasol – and we sip our coffee and nibble our pastries and just watch and wait….
The other postcard is of ‘Il Cenacolo ’ (‘The Last Supper’) by Leonardo Da Vinci. It is an amazing, huge mural on the wall of the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie’ also in Milan. Taking Da Vinci four years to complete towards the end of the C15th, it has withstood decay, bombing, defacing and neglect. But recent painstaking, detailed, expert restoration has revealed most of its true, originality – and what a sight it is.
It depicts that moment when Jesus announces at his last supper, that someone is going to betray Him. The mixed emotions of the disciples – surprise, shock, anger, disbelief (is John, his beloved disciple ‘swooning’?) – are all captured in wonderful detail – but the overriding sense is one of ‘questioning’: ‘What? Why? Who? When? How?’ – all these come literally screaming from the scene. There’s an urgency from the Disciples that answers to those questions are demanded – and they need answering now!
As I write this one of my dearest friends, Rosemary, is dying from a horrible cancer. She only has a few days to live and so may have passed away as you read this.
She and her partner Sue and their two children were fundamental to Thelma and I in our early days in Tonbridge. Rosemary is (was?) a Lay Reader and Sue the Choir Mistress in the small village church we all worshipped in. Both Rosemary and Sue are strong in their faith, and wise and practical in their lives. When I spoke to her last about her funeral, we touched on the Why, When? and How? questions. And, ever wise, she reminded me that some questions just need patience to be answered. And sometimes that patience may have to stretch beyond the grave…..
Leonardo Da Vinci once wrote:
Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind.
I think Da Vinci’s got it right there. We need to be patient with people and circumstances that we find are trying or frustrating. We need to be patient to protect ourselves from ourselves! And as ever, I find Rosemary right too. Trying to hurry answers to seemingly unanswerable questions of Why? When? How? etc may not lie in our time… it may be that some answers lie with God beyond this life.
And so, gazing at these two postcards, I am reminded of sitting in a small café in Milan, sipping espresso and watching the world go by, just waiting…. and that perhaps I should acknowledge more often that I should give up my ‘bushel of brains’ and concede that a ‘handful of patience’ might often be the wiser option.
I think Rosemary would approve that.
Yours in Christ
Revd. Chris Wingfield