The virtue of tenacity

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, October 15, 2019

By Scott Baker

As Christians plod their way through the liturgical year, it is about at this point we hear Bible readings urging us to be persistent and keep going. Perhaps it could be likened to a marathon runner being urged on at mile marker 23 and not give up. On this coming Sunday, Oct. 20, the Revised Common Lectionary has appointed lessons about persistency and tenacity, especially in prayer.

An example from my own life of tenacity happened 24 years ago when I felt a call to the priesthood. It seemed God must have been doing a lot of talking to folks back then because in my church alone (granted, it was a huge church) there were 12 aspirants for holy orders. The church deliberately makes the process slow. One by one my fellow aspirants got fed up. One by one they became distracted or dismayed. One by one they fell away. By the time 3.5 years rolled by, I was the only one left. You might say that that was true testimony that I was called by God. I think it was the fact that I always showed up. I was persistent to the point of tenacity. I am walking proof of Woody Allen’s adage, “80 percent of success is just showing up.”

Yet, what happens when we are persistent in prayer and the cancer doesn’t go away, or the long hoped-for promotion doesn’t pan out? What happens when I pray and go to the 7-11 to buy the lottery ticket week in and week out and only wind up even poorer than when I started? Well, there’s the rub. Persistence in prayer is about God’s sense of justice and righteousness and not wish-fulfilling. Huston Smith wrote in his book “Why Religion Matters,” “When the consequences of belief are worldly goods, such as health, fixating on these turns religion into a service station for self-gratification and churches into health clubs. This is the opposite of religion’s role, which is to decenter the ego, not pander to its desires.”

The persistent widow in Jesus’ parable is seeking justice from the judge. But he was crooked as a dog’s hind leg and didn’t give a fig about her vindication. However, because she was persistent, she finally wore him down until justice was done.

Which begs the question: How often are we persistently praying for justice? Justice for the millions of people worldwide, and in our own country, who are enslaved? For the millions of poor who are poor because of a corrupt and unjust society in which we live where the top 1 percent has 93 percent of the nation’s wealth? Or, for the fact that what we call a living wage is so drastically short of what it takes to actually live in modest comfort? These are but to name a few. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on and on. I know I don’t pray for these nearly as persistently as I should.

One of my favorite writers, Fredrick Buechner wrote in his book “Wishful Thinking,” “Jesus says to be persistent in prayer, not because you have to beat a path to God’s door, but maybe, it’s not until you beat a path to God’s door there’s no way for him to get to your door. And down that path you beat with even your most halting prayer, God may not bring you what you want but he will bring you himself. And after all, at the heart of it that may be what we are actually praying for to start with.”

In the meantime, we keep the faith, run the race and fight the good fight.

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 562-4542.