My parents were intentional when they named me “Penelope.” They voiced the expectation that I would live up to the name’s various meanings. Many of you are familiar with the Greek myth about Penelope, the loyal wife of Odysseus. She stayed home for 20 years while he fought in the Trojan War and traveled the world. In his absence, suitors arrived and tried to convince her that Odysseus was dead – and that she should get remarried to one of them. She kept them at bay by promising she would select her new husband AFTER she finished weaving a shroud. For years, she diligently wove during the day, then cunningly unraveled her work each night, until Odysseus finally returned home. This myth set expectations that I would wait patiently and that I would not be idle while waiting.
Few people know about the other meaning behind my name. My father was in the Royal Navy and had admiration for the HMS Penelope. She was a light cruiser which saw action throughout the Atlantic and Mediterranean during World War II. She was “injured” on six occasions during the war: she ran aground; she struck a mine; she was repeatedly peppered with shrapnel during air attacks. She was torpedoed and sunk in 1944 – but not before she valiantly contributed to the war effort against Italy and Germany. The history of this ship set expectations of resilience and determination, that being wounded would not deter me from pursuing my goals.
How many of us are going through some “Penelope moments” this year? We are waiting for the pandemic to be over, but that wait feels longer than we are capable of bearing – sometimes it seems like it’s been 20 years! We are endeavoring to be loyal to our faith communities, but we also feel as exhausted as the ancient Penelope must have felt (from years of weaving during the day and ripping out at night). In our attempts to be nimble and to pivot, we are trying technology and formats foreign to our expertise, not always successfully. Sometimes our efforts run aground; sometimes they get caught in a mine field; sometimes we are pierced by the shrapnel of criticism. We are waiting for this season to be over and doing our best to keep things together in the meantime. But there are times when we fall short of what we expect of ourselves (and what others expect of us). We chide ourselves for having so little patience or energy or resilience or determination.
About ten days ago, the Trinity Monday study group (on Zoom) discussed a chapter on “waiting”. Our text suggested that what God does in us while we wait may be as important as what we are waiting for. When God’s “not yet” feels like “not ever”, it is good to remember that the act of waiting may produce unanticipated fruit. Important though our goals may be, the people we become as a result of living through the process of waiting may be God’s greater gift. Romans 5 says:
“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
Oh God, as we struggle to keep forging ahead in uncharted waters, we ask you to use this season to produce perseverance, character and hope in each of our lives. May we continually be aware of the love you have poured into our hearts. Give us the willingness and energy to share that love with others. Amen.