Patience – The Faithful Doctor

One of Kierkegaard’s least know works is his Upbuilding Discourses, presented as a series of sermons and, unusually, published under his own name.

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I was involved a few years ago in a book which presented these discourses in the form of dialogues. They were reworked by George Pattison, a theologian and Kierkegaard specialist, and Helle Moller Jensen, a Danish Lutheran priest and theologian. George’s own version of the original discourses can be found here. One of the dialogues was title ‘Learning Patience’ and it seems rather relevant at the moment. My own contribution to the book was to offer a pastoral response to the dialogues and I summarised the main images of patience from ‘Learning Patience’ as these:

  • The weapon of the weak. For many people in constrained circumstances, the exercise of patience can be a way of gaining some autonomy in the face of apparent powerlessness – putting up a bit of resistance, as it were.
  • Finding the eternal in us. When we are put in a position where we have to settle in for the long haul, how do we find a lasting awareness of what it is that endures beyond the circumstances we are currently in?
  • The Faithful Doctor. This is a lovely expression of Kierkegaard’s. He personifies patience as one who has ministered to others and can minister to us. Personification of virtues or skills is a way of recognising that they have a life beyond our own abilities to master them – they have served others well and we can borrow them for a while.
  • An Angel guarding the borders of human experience. Another personification of a ‘strong one’, an angelic helper who patrols the borderlands of what we can manage and, perhaps, one who can bear witness to our struggles, giving them recognition and honouring them.

Here’s one section of ‘Learning Patience’ to finish with:

When it comes to being who you are, it’s no good rushing at it or battling your way forward, and even if you’re living through a time of crisis when big decisions and heroic actions are being called for, you can only every find your self quietly and patiently. In fact, the quieter you are about it the better!

One thought on “Patience – The Faithful Doctor

  1. Thank you for this John. All four of the images of patience that you outline so well, are familiar and resonate strongly with me, though the specific expression ‘The Faithful Doctor’ is new and inspiring to me. The constraints imposed by my health issues over the years have meant that I’ve needed to learn how to engage with and practise patience, so it’s now a valued companion who is usually near at hand and able to come to my aid when called upon.
    So for me, the current government restrictions and the necessity for me to practise strict physical self-isolation together with my vulnerable elderly father, to safeguard us both from Covid-19, is not drastically different from the ‘hibernation’ that I habitually resort to when my physical and/or mental health break down or become fragile. I feel fortunate to have had these personal experiences to draw on in the current world-wide crisis, and to have the reassurance that in the past I have survived and re-emerged from lengthy hibernations (the longest being 16 months) and God willing can do so again. I hope I can offer some encouragement to people for whom physical isolation is new and difficult, and may perhaps induce bouts of loneliness, anxiety, boredom, frustration, depression or whatever other ‘demons’ rear their heads in these times.


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