Midweek Faith Lift
March 1, 2023
The Law of Persistence
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
February 13, 2023
Astronaut and oceanographer Kathleen Sullivan is the first American woman to walk in space and the first woman to dive to the deepest part of the ocean. She is the only person to do both, and she says her life is forever changed by what she’s seen. “We are all sharing this one home, the spaceship Earth, and we’re intimately connected.”
“The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” - T.S. Eliot
Affirmative prayer: I give thanks for the explorations of my heart and soul. I see the dimensions of life – the many mansions of Spirit’s house – from the depths of my being and from a cosmic vision of Oneness. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.
Wow, what an experience to see from deep within the earth and from far above the earth, outside of gravity…clearly that changes one’s perspective. And yet, what T.S. Eliot says is so true: we arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. That is how it is with our parable for today and for the journey of our life. Our parable is about persistence and tenacity, hugely important qualities for our journey both within and without. Here is how it reads:
The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
18 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my accuser.’ 4 For a while he refused, but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (NRSV-UE)
What an interesting story! In his book, The Hidden Parables, Dr. Michael calls this parable the “Parable of the Importunate Widow.” That was a new word to me, importunate, and it means “urgent or persistent in solicitation, sometimes annoyingly so.” The Online Dictionary gave the example of whining children as being “importunate,” and it does seem to fit, but this story about the widow has a higher purpose, for sure. She is persistent and “bothersome!” GOOD FOR HER!
The first line of the parable, to pray always and not lose heart is perhaps the most powerful message of the story. We have two characters in this story, the judge and the widow. And in the human scheme of things it is easy to see the judge as holding all the power, because whether fair or not, intelligent or not, insightful or not, the judge has the power to make a ruling that determines the outcome for the widow. And in the description of the judge, Jesus acknowledges that the judge lacks a sense of connection to the greater reality of God and lacks respect for people, for his fellow humans. Even more discouraging is the statement the judge is aware of his limitations and does not see them as any kind of liability. He finally renders a judgment so she will stop bothering him! Wow, there’s justice for you!
That is a rather grim and discouraging picture, one that is familiar to us all in the current culture wars. It is easy to lose heart and feel the sense of victim consciousness as so much that is unlike love swirls around us. And there does seem to be a lack of awareness of the harm and pain that is caused by arbitrary rulings about gender identity and so many other issues. Whew! How do we take heart and persist in the face of all this? That is our question on so many levels as we engage this parable.
When we remember first, that we are all the characters in the story, then we can begin to understand the deeper meaning as we begin to also look within for clarity. We, too, have at times been lazy in our thinking, not really listening to the deeper needs and feelings of others. We have not been respectful of our fellow humans or of ourselves. I have certainly had times when my family wanted to tell me things that I did not want to hear and I refused to listen. And yet, they persisted! I have also had to step up and say things that they did not want to hear, more than once as a matter of fact! Persistence goes both ways, doesn’t it? The Universe persists in giving us growth opportunities for sure.
We find our guidance in the persistence of the widow who was unrelenting in her quest for justice. The story does not say how many times she petitioned the judge, but it was clearly enough for him to finally relent. What is the message that we are to take from this story? The first one, to me, is the power of single-mindedness! We don’t know the particular issue, and it really doesn’t matter, does it? It is the single-mindedness of her quest for justice that is the message for us. And the resolution is that the judge finally relents and grants her justice. The message to us as Dr. Todd writes on p. 239 of The Hidden Parables:
The truth is that the apparently powerful currents of circumstances, people, trends, finances, politics, and environments that swirl around us so impersonally have a weak spot-an automatic bias to yield to persistence. We need not give in to victim consciousness anymore.
The other significant part of this message is in the words of Jesus, reassuring us that “God will grant justice to his chosen ones.” What that means is that we do the choosing and when we choose the spiritual path, the path of prayer and hold fast to that path, some kind of way will open up for us. As a Black woman minister said to me, “God always makes a way out of no way!”
This has to be part of the energy of our opening story of Kathleen Sullivan who clearly had to persist and importune the powers in charge of the space program to become the first woman to go to the deepest reaches of the sea and to walk in space. Imagine how many times she was told no, or not yet, or not this time! She had to be the “importunate” astronaut/deep sea diver. She persisted and the Universe finally said yes!
One of the demands of this kind of persistence is that you look within even as you respond to all that is outside of you, out of your control. We are asked to practice this kind of persistence in our daily life as we encounter the unexpected. We just returned from an 18-day vacation that I would describe as the “time of cancellations!” We had planned to have dinner with good friends from Todd’s company who were in San Diego at the time. However, they had to return to the Twin Cities for her mother-in-law’s 97th birthday celebration. No problem, we can just postpone…..until we learned that she died 2 days before her birthday! Sorry for your loss, Kathy and Randy.
Then we were going to connect with my dear friend, Rev. Jackie Hawkins, but no, she has pneumonia and is not over it yet. And then we both come down with the respiratory crud that is going around and persists for lo these many days. Cough, sneeze, cough, sneeze…..kleenex, cough drops and endless rounds of Mucinex, Dayquil and Nyquil! This is supposed to be our vacation for heaven’s sake! And yet we persisted by not getting mad about it and not denying the illness but by leaning into the flow. It was a continual exercise in being present to what we were each experiencing and honoring our bodies, our energy level and what we each needed for a sense of well-being. I called our MWF Prayer Circle more than once and Todd and I prayed together frequently.
What I celebrate is that we persisted in enjoying what we could, the beautiful scenery and weather and our time together. We did not spend much time lamenting our circumstances, which was a significant step out of victim consciousness. I celebrate that for both of us! We really needed rest and we both got a lot of that! We needed down time and we also got that along with a change of pace and activity. We had a lot of fun and wonderful experiences together in a Meditation Garden overlooking the Pacific and at the San Diego Botanical Gardens and Torrey Pines State Park overlook on the Pacific. On returning home we agreed that it was indeed a wonderful vacation! Thank you, God for our persistence in staying the course.
In reflecting on this idea of prayer and persistence, I wondered what our dear friend, John Lewis, might have to say about it. I consulted his book Carry On and found a chapter entitled “On Patience” which seemed to pertain to the theme of persistence and not losing heart. He relates two personal stories in this chapter. One of them pertains to his experience at 16 years old of being unsuccessful in passing his driver’s test. The white officer yelled at him, saying for all to hear, “Boy, don’t you ever come back here again unless you know how to drive.” And John Lewis did not return…..until he was 42 years old! What he had to say about patience on page 78, was this:
You don’t have to do everything in a day. Take your time. Wait. Have patience. I had to learn to have patience. I didn’t when I was a young man. You can go down every road in other ways. I did.
And when you go down that road in a different way, with a different state of mind, you arrive at the very place you began really knowing yourself for the first time.
Blessings on the Path,