• Nancy J Thompson

The Power of Patience -- and Impatience

Many say that patience is a virtue. Christians, for example, might point to Romans 12:12, which teaches believers to “be patient in tribulation.” In Buddhism, patience is one of the six paramitas or perfections. I look at patience, however, similarly to how I view nuclear energy. Both can be a great good, and both can be turned to terrible ends. Stalkers, for example, can be very patient; those plotting acts of vengeance or harm can be patient, waiting for the time and circumstances most conducive to causing their plotted harm. That kind of patience is no virtue.


Recently, Pope Francis went viral for an act of impatience. A woman grabbed at him and would not let go; he smacked her hand away in a moment of frustration. I’m a mom. When I watched the video, I immediately recognized that impulse. I’ve felt it many times, and a “Get off of me!” reaction can be hard to push down, especially when there are a variety of pressures in the moment: time, responsibilities, crowds.


I felt for the Pope. But I also felt for the woman. We’ve all been that woman: literally or figuratively pushed away, brushed aside, slapped down.


To his credit, Pope Francis apologized later. He also spoke of the need to end violence toward women. Truly, I don’t think his smacking away of the woman’s hand was about gender; in that moment, with forbearance and patience lost, I think he would have been just as likely to swat a man’s hand. He’s right, though, of the need to end violence toward women (and I will argue that humans need to end violence toward each other full stop, but that is for a different post), and that is why I hope that the Pope and clerics in all religions will admit that one important tool in ending violence toward women is the empowerment of women as religious authorities -- priests, imams, rabbis, and monks -- and enable that empowerment.


Toward that end, women have been patient (if that is even the word to use when one can do nothing to change circumstances) for centuries. Obviously, patience is not getting the job done. There is nothing remarkable about men wanting to hold on to religious power; in any society, the dominant group works to consolidate and retain power and to curtail the rights of non-dominant groups. But the dynamic needs to change. Judaism first referred to rabbis in the first century CE; Christianity has had priests since the second century CE; the first Buddhist monks walked the earth 25 centuries ago. How might those religions have developed differently if women had been empowered over all those centuries? Would we have seen sex abuse crises, the deaths and selling of babies out of wedlock, the corporal and emotional abuse of unmarried young women; would we have seen cultures of disenfranchisement, of restrictions on rights, of domestic violence? Would women have as easily been “erased” from public life in Israel?[i]


I don’t know. We can not know, at least not until women are fully empowered as religious authorities across all religions, in all cultures. I’ve lost patience in waiting for that day.

[i] Epstein, Norman. “The Oppression of Jewish Women in Israel.” Jewish Currents. 21 June 2016.


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