I love this painting, Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, painted in 1872, quite possibly the painting that launched the whole impressionist movement. It’s marvelous. Sharon and I first hung a print of this painting when we moved to our condo in downtown Seattle. The painting was like looking out those big windows, sometimes into the fog, sometimes out over the blue Sound toward the Olympics, over the city as it would wake up each day. We would watch the ferry from Bainbridge arrive very early in the morning.

I had just retired from my work at Seattle Pacific University. We were pulling up roots, all of it necessary, of course, but still painful. This painting became for me a symbol of that moment, the sky filled with the fog of uncertainty about what might lie out ahead, the water a little choppy, the horizon a bit gloomy. I think I identified with that guy in his little boat, striking out over the waters alone, not sure where I was headed, not sure I was in control of anything anymore.

But wait, look again, do you see that sun peaking through, that little sun, promising so much out ahead? Sunrise must be on its way!

I stood in front of this painting just the other day, now hung in our place in Pasadena. It seemed to speak vividly once again. Without question the fog hangs heavy for all of us today. Nothing seems certain. How much more suffering will there be, will it strike home, will financial stress drive many into despair? We don’t know. We’ve got lots of data, as we are fond of saying, but we really don’t know. This is a time of waiting. This is a time that calls for patience.

The great twentieth-century poet Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote a series of amazing letters, from 1902–1908, to a young budding writer who asked for advice. Rilke says a lot of wonderful things in these letters, about learning a craft, about living life fully, but his call for patience, as a mark of growing maturity, has always lingered with me. Being an artist, Rilke says, like living well, means,

ripening, like a tree which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!

I admit patience has never been my strong suit. I want to fix things, right now. And I’m tired at the moment of being patient. Will summer ever come again? Can we spot the little sun breaking through the fog? Well, we can’t force the answers we want to hear right now, can we? Rilke is right: We must grow in patience. Like a tree, grow from deep within. Summer will come again. Don’t you see it?

As usual, I find myself turning, from a great painter in this case, from a poet, to the beauty of the promises of my faith. Listen to this from the prophet Hosea:

Let us strive to know the Lord,
whose coming is as sure as the sunrise.
He will come to us like the rain,
like spring rains that water the earth.

Here we are waiting too. Here we must also grow in patience. But as we wait, we are encouraged to do something: “Strive to know the Lord.” What does that mean? I surely need the data, yes, but maybe I need a different order of knowing, too. We could turn to prayer, real prayer, for example. We could read the Psalms, follow our Lord in this season to the cross, all the way to the garden of resurrection. Yes, strive to know the Lord. He will come, sure as the sunrise! 

So as we look out over the waters, look squarely into the fog, we see, there is that sun faintly breaking through. Patience is everything.