Festina Lente

The Latin festina lente is a classical adage and oxymoron used to describe the military and political acumen of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. 

The phrase means "make haste slowly," and Augustus was so fond of it that he had emblems and seals made to signify it.  

The Roman historian Suetonius wrote of Augustus: 

He thought nothing less becoming in a well-trained leader than haste and rashness, and, accordingly, favourite aphorisms of his were: "Hasten slowly"; "Better a safe commander than a bold"; and "That which has been done well has been done quickly enough."

Sofia Isabel Kavlin is a poet I've read from time to time, and she recently wrote a poem about relationships and how they go awry when we move too quickly and ignore warning signs that might have helped avoid heartbreak.  

She writes of festina lente

One metaphor that opens things up,
Like a point in time,
Stretching to become a moment,
And the idea of time,
Draining out of your cells.
There is something strangely beautiful about Kavlin's interpretation of the phrase.  

For her, it's a perception of time and how we lose sight of how bendy it can become, how moments can last seemingly forever, and yet, all the while, time is doing its work on us because it's also fleeting. 

For my own part, I've often unknowingly used that phrase when I've led group decision-making and have shared with the group: "We need to move as quickly as we can and as slowly as we must."

Festina lente  also resembles the old adage, "Measure twice, cut once."  You can't stay paralyzed in the measuring phase, as you might imagine, and you will need to make the cut at some point.  But not measuring isn't an option either. 

Most people fall into one of those two categories at different times.  

They either spend all their time measuring, moving slowly, worrying about making the wrong choice, or never really moving, or they move ahead, leap before looking, and then wonder why they fell flat on their face. 

But if we learned to adopt the wisdom of festina lente we might discover a way to satisfy both the impulse to be cautious and act quickly.  

Jesus once told his followers: 
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ (Luke 14:28-30, NIV)

Jesus was trying to teach his followers about the cost of discipleship.  His words would not have been all that unfamiliar for first-century ears because they would have all known people who became disciples of one rabbi or another.  

One didn't follow a rabbi lightly in those days.  It meant dedicating your life to studying, learning, and being with the rabbi as much as possible so you could learn to be like the rabbi. 

The thing about Jesus was that he was offering this guidance to regular folks, not just the elite, who qualified to be a student.  His call to discipleship was for everyone.  

Let's let that sink in.  The decision to follow Jesus is for all of us, no matter who we are or our qualifications.  And the decision to follow Jesus is one that we should consider carefully each and every day.  

We should "make haste slowly" in our journey in the Way of Christ.  This means we should be prepared to see the world as Christ sees it.  We should consider what it means to live differently, to love God and everyone as Christ did.  

And then we should move.  

To stay stuck in the considering phase does the world no good, and you and I have been called to be lights in this world.  Charging off without being thoughtful in our faith is not an option either. But we still need to move. 

May we all find ways to live out a thoughtful, grace-filled, loving faith that is also energetic and life-giving.  May we open our hearts and minds to discover what it really means to be Christ's disciples and then follow him as best we can.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.  


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