Traveling in the slow lane

Jesus at the House of Mary and Martha; Jacob Jordaens, c. 1623

Frenzy seems to be characteristic of the American way of life. On one level, we rush to clock in at work on time, make it to church before the entrance procession has started, pick up groceries after battling traffic in hopes that dinner will come together before 7:30 p.m., jump lanes to get kids to soccer practice, and so on. On another level, we watch roadways jam up when it comes time for a Clemson football game or an airshow at the Marine Corps Air Station outside Beaufort. There are also reprehensible examples of frenzy, as when crowds stampede or shooters start firing in places of worship.

It seems that we all are crazy busy and insanely urgent about transitory things. The problematics are all too evident. We see road rage daily. We witness arguments over coupons in grocery lines. We hear stories of mothers assaulting children over selections for cheerleading squads. Worse, domestic abuse turned murderous shows up in the news with alarming frequency.

The challenge for us is to get at the root of what causes frenzied, aggressive behaviors. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus links murder and adultery to interior causes, the capital sins of anger and lust. Good confessors invite penitents to examine the underlying reasons for their repeated behaviors. Is gossip really about a sour attitude that wants to be reinforced in its thinking that evil motives lurk everywhere and that everyone is a deep-down deceiver? Or perhaps, is it about one’s feeling of gross inferiority and deriving a bit of pleasure in discovering (or seeming to) that others aren’t really that good either? 

Similarly, is American frenzy based on narcissism? Or does it come from fear?

If frenzy springs from narcissism, then it would seem that our hurry to get ahead at work or on the road or in a long line comes from a sense that everyone else ought to realize how important we are. Perhaps some of that narcissism has its root in a perfectionism gone crazy — having to prove oneself over and over by coming off as successful, glamorous, superbly accomplished. We Americans have an unfortunate love affair with the verb “win.” If, on the other hand, frenzy comes from fear, it suggests that we believe that any incursion into our time, our priorities, and our possessions will sap us of power and meaning. We fear being cast off and trivialized.

Christianity promotes another way, and we have heard it repeatedly. The last shall be first. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The greatest shall serve the least. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. And then there’s the caution to Martha, who is busy, too busy, about many things. 

Lent is now weeks and weeks past. But perhaps it is not too late to consider what waste our haste makes and how ordered our energies ought to be toward God, others, and the good. There’s an old Latin saying, “Festina lente” — make haste slowly. It suggests that a contemplative pace is the one that really works.

Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM
About Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM 90 Articles
SISTER PAMELA SMITH, SSCM, is the Director for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at psmith@charlestondiocese.org.