After college, (oh so many forgotten years ago I am afraid to count) I had an instant noodle phase. I am almost sure you know what they are: plastic bowls that come with preserved noodles and pouches of flavoring. You pour hot water over the noodles, mix in the flavoring, cover the cup, wait for 3 minutes, and then voila, instant meal.
As my taste for food became more refined over the years (I hope) I began to relish and crave for more complex flavors. So when I was in Osaka a couple of years ago, I wanted to taste an authentic ramen and what I got was something I didn’t expect. The broth was a masterpiece of layered flavors and textures – nothing I had ever tasted before. After my first sip, my eyes opened wide in wonderful disbelief and the chef caught the tiny gesture and he smiled in delight.
Luckily the chef of the family-owned restaurant ramen shop spoke excellent English so we had a short conversation when he came over. He asked if I liked it and I said yes. Then he offered to explain that the broth had been simmering for days. He said that the only way for the lipids in the raw materials to undergo a change is through a slow and long simmering. You could feel the pride he felt in telling me the secret of his work.
To compare the instant noodles with this ramen is an insult. It’s not even in the same league. And in a moment of quiet gastronomic contemplation, it occurred to me that this ramen was a product of time and patience, unlike the instant-ness of the instant noodles.
Our spiritual life needs to be very much like a simmering ramen. It takes years of contemplating scripture and prayer to know and fall in love with Christ. Virtues can’t be gained in a weekend, but take time to acquire, and after that, it takes longer to turn them into heroic actions when done promptly and intuitively. We also know we cannot become holy after a three-day retreat as we slide back and forth in our resolutions and affections. All of these take time and patience.
Yet, the secular environment we have to live in makes us think we can do these instantly. We no longer have to wait for a television show to appear on TV; now we can stream it whenever and wherever we choose. The same thing goes for movies and music. Just two decades ago, before the wireless revolution, we had to plan well with our families and friends. When we said we’d be in such and such a place in such and such a time, we were there because it was difficult to flake out. Not so today; don’t we experience people flaking out when you are already in the place you agreed to be in? I teach in college and most of my students no longer have the patience to take notes; they just take photos of what I write on the whiteboard.
Technology is good! Humanity is better today because of the great technology we have achieved in medicine, communication, and learning. But, if we don’t watch out, it can make us impatient. Sometimes when we are striving toward changing a vice into a virtue, and we don’t get it right away, we give up – after only a week! If we pray for something and don’t get it, we throw a tantrum and stop praying as if to punish and spurn God. Sometimes we start praying the rosary but our mind is so distracted that we just give up and stop.
In one of Christ’s parables, he likens his kingdom to a man throwing seed on the land. The seeds sprout and grow even if the man doesn’t know how it happens. First, a blade appears, then a full grain, and then it ripens and ready for harvest. (Mark 4:26-29) The point Christ is making is that things take time. Even if the man shouts at the seeds to, “speed up speed up and grow faster!” it has no effect. It will grow as it is meant to grow. Seed + Time = Harvest. Remove time and there is no harvest. Since we have to live with time, we need to develop patience because we can’t get it instantly.
Since the secular world can foster impatience (and does it well), maybe can balance it with endeavors that need patience. Why not plant a few seeds of your favorite herb and make it grow. Buy a model kit of a plane or ship or the USS Enterprise (from Star Trek is good but the US Navy is excellent too.) Write a poem – that takes a lot of patience. It is spiritual physics: purposely do the opposite of something you’d like to change. In this case, since we want to replace impatience so we do something that requires patience.
We should also apply it to our spiritual life. Maybe we can say the rosary slower (as it is meant to slow us down.) Maybe we can increase our daily meditation by another five minutes. Maybe we can stay after Mass for a few minutes and dialogue with the Lord who is inside us after Holy Communion. This will help us be patient when the real need arises: when we are afflicted with sickness, undergoing some mental or physical suffering, or when we are enveloped in some great temptation.
I have forgotten the taste of the countless instant noodles I’ve had. But even if it has been a few years, I still can’t forget the taste of that ramen that was prepared with a lot of time and patience. Time. Patience. If they make a world of difference in food, can you imagine what a world of difference they make in our spiritual life?