Proper 28(C): Stay With It
By: Dani Scoville
When I received this Gospel passage assignment, I audibly groaned. I have no idea what to do with the apocalyptic Jesus, particularly the NRSV translation of this passage with him. I stared at this scripture for over a month, waiting for something other than what I’m about to share to come up—something more scholarly than what resonated with me in the Message translation. But at the end of the day, the Message telling of Luke 21:5-19 spoke to me in this time and place most. Specifically, the lines “You’ll think at times that the very sky is falling” (Luke 21:11) and “Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved” (Luke 21:19).
One of the most frustrating and clique retorts to the why of religion is “faith is a crutch.” It assumes, in that privileged white male straight American way, that we are meant to go through this life journey alone—to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps emotionally, physically, spiritually—after all, anything less makes us weak. This ego-centric approach of shouldering life on our own is destructive, and I’ve seen it lived out through isolated individualism (“I am a rock, I am an island”), substance abuse (self-medicating as a “fix” to a struggle), and workaholism (escapism or proving one’s worth). In trying to do life without God I’ve tried all three of these and they simply don’t work, and worse: they ended up only digging me further into the pit of helpless and perceived aloneness.
“Faith is a crutch”. Well, THANK GOD! Have you looked around recently? With Hurricane Matthew taking at least 1,000 Haitian lives, Donald Trump’s violent and hateful comments against nearly every kind of person, reports of US police brutality against people of color continue to surface in shocking numbers, and the two families that lived above my old apartment in the Mission District of San Francisco this week were unfairly evicted — it certainly feels like “the very sky is falling.” And all that I just listed was only this month. All I can do is desperately cling to my “faith crutch” in order to, as the dearly departed Prince said, “get through this thing called life.” Or as this passage echoes, “Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.”
I need courage right now to hope. To hope that as Martin Luther King Jr. says, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” So when Jesus says repeatedly to “stay with it,” it sounds like Gospel wisdom that speaks so clearly to 2016. It rings of the fruit of the spirit with perseverance—to hold onto hope despite all that is stacked against it.
I have experienced something of staying with it in my limited and privileged time here on earth:
My senior year of college felt like rock bottom to my 21-year-old self. My father had committed suicide earlier in the year, my support system of my three best friends were all gone on their study abroad programs, and I was dealing with daily panic attacks that felt like constant near deaths. Not to mention the common worry of “what the heck do I do after graduation?!” that every senior grapples with throughout their last year. In my limited and individual experience, it felt like the very sky was falling around me, and I felt alone. I was angry at God for all of it and refused to engage in my faith in the ways I had at my church and in my personal practice. So instead of scripture, I went to poetry. It was in this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that I heard God saying exactly was Jesus was saying in this passage: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. / Just keep going.” (Book of Hours, I 59). The “just keep going”, got me through that very difficult season, even though relief didn’t come for a while, it was miraculous perseverance and strength I can only attribute to God.
There is an invitation into the long game in this passage. It doesn’t skirt the reality that life has some real terror and injustice in it. And it instructs us to “stay with it.” Don’t run away, don’t numb out, don’t go it alone. Trusting that, somehow, God is bending that arc towards justice, despite news headlines and soundbytes that say otherwise.
Dani Scoville is a certified spiritual director practicing in San Francisco. She is particularly curious about spiritual developmental stages, individuals’ personal experiences, and the relationship between attachment styles and God images. To find more of her writing, visit her blog.