“Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?”
~ Lao Tzu
Time and again in these past days of Lent I’ve been reminded of my impatience. I’ve found myself feeling stressed and frustrated when something happens or doesn’t happen. I’ve felt myself feeling blindsided because someone said or didn’t say something. It feels like my system is somehow charged and sparks are flying all round me.
We are suddenly and dramatically in uncharted waters with the coronavirus. More than any other time in recent memory, we are both global citizens and local citizens. This virus has belly-flopped into the deep end of the world’s pool, leaving many of us still trying to clear the water out of our eyes. This feels like an impossibly hard time - minutes into hours into days. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been looking for the remote so that I could fast forward through these not-knowing days. We are people who know things. Google has convinced us that there is an answer for everything, and not only that, but there is an answer for everything right now.
So, these tender days of waiting are bringing up (for me anyway) feelings of vulnerability, confusion, fear and powerlessness. One of those would turn my day on its head. Those four and even more make for disheartening days and make it tough to get out of bed.
Centuries ago Lao Tzu asked the question that might help us now, “do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles…?” It’s hard to ask people to wait who are used to doing and solving and fixing. Many of us are wired to do the next thing. And yet I can’t help but think that this is a necessary question, a soul-singing question, it may even be a light in the darkness question.
Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles is a necessary question because the truth is: we know what we know when we know it? Not a minute before. Perhaps in our asking this question we can begin to collect better tools for our toolbox. Perhaps this question can stop us for just a split second to catch our collective breath and gain a new perspective. Lao Tzu's question may also be a soul-singing song. There is a balm in Gilead to make to the wounded whole. Hearing Lao's question names for me the pain of not-knowing, of being anxious. Listening for my soul's song while I’m waiting brings a companion that can sit with me in the darkness of these hours. Be still and know that I am God, is another soul-singing song that brings perspective. Settling mud is one of those things that can’t be regulated by our wrist watches. Settling takes as long as it takes. These coronavirus hours are that as well. We don’t yet know what this looks like. The picture is still being painted; the paint hasn’t yet begun to dry. Be still and know…In the darkness that is with us in these days, it matters that we seek a soul-song to whistle or hum as we make our way through. This question feels for me like a light in the darkness. There is an invitation in Lao’s words that feels almost like a glimmer of light, a reminder to us of what may already be there. Yes, we know that mud fills everything up, so that nothing is visible. Yes, we know that the mud won’t always be mud. There is a settling that will come sometime after the dirt and water meet. The darkness isn’t all there is. Somehow, somewhere – light shines in the darkness. If we pay attention and keep looking, we can see that light out there. Dim and barely visible, but I believe that it's a there just the same.
May Lao Tzu’s words remind us, encourage us, exhort us, comfort us in and through the coming days. May they bring grace enough for you and for me. May we be as present as we can be to ourselves and others in these days. May we remember to keep breathing. May we remember to be thoughtful. May we extend grace and be given grace and enough. May we find the patience we need to wait for the mud to settle.