The young pastor sitting at his kitchen table in the middle of a threatening night, praying to God for the gift of perseverance, felt another hand steadying his grasp on the plow.
And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, "Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world." I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone (Freeman, Upon This Rock, 173).
Keep your hand on the plow and hold on ... how? By holding fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for the one who has promised is faithful.
The little rural church that begged to close its doors was in for a shock. The denomination said, "Don't quit now. You may be on to something." After recovering from the shock of not being allowed to quit, the congregation said, "Well, maybe we are on to something!" Over the next years they held to their fundamental vision of being a community in ministry to the rural poor. They also learned unanticipated lessons about simplifying and focusing their efforts, letting go of their church building, developing lay leadership, and worshipping in homes. For more than twenty years now that community has lived the way of healing love in a region of intense need (Stephen V. Doughty, "Glimpsing Glimpses," 43).
The story of Zora Neale Hurston is not a "See you at the top!" success story of perseverance bringing a sudden turnaround of her fortunes. In 1959, Hurston suffered a severe stroke and entered a County Welfare Home, where she died three months later on January 28, 1960.
"Make a way out of no way," was the spirit instilled in novelist Alice Walker by her mother. Teaching Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God in a literature course in the early 1970s at Wellsley College, Walker read in a folklore essay that Hurston was buried in an unmarked grave in the Garden of Heavenly Rest, a segregated cemetery in Fort Pierce, Florida. Outraged at this insult to Hurston, Walker headed south in August of 1973 determined to find Zora's grave. Making her way through waist-high weeds she located the grave and laid on it a marker inscribed with the words: "Zora Neale Hurston/ "A Genius of the South"/ Novelist/ Folklorist/ Anthropologist/ 1901-1960" (Mary Helen Washington, Foreword to Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, x).
Thanks to the perseverance of Walker and others, Hurston today is "the most widely taught black woman writer in the canon of American literature." Hurston is one who met the triple oppression of black women with a threesome of resisting qualities shared by black women throughout their history of suppression: invisible dignity, quiet grace, and unshouted courage (Katie Cannon, Black Womanist Ethics, 4).
Keep your hand on the plow. Do not grow weary in doing what is right. Hold fast to the confession of your faith without wavering. Why? And, more importantly, how? Because, as the author of Hebrews tells us, "He who has promised is faithful" (10:23).
(Portions of this entry appeared in Preaching Proverbs: Wisdom for the Pulpit, Alyce M. McKenzie, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)
Robert Neal Hemenway, Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977).
Samuel G. Freeman, Upon This Rock: The Miracles of a Black Church (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993).
Katie Geneva Cannon, Black Womanist Ethics (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988).
Carlin Romano, "A Daughter of Florida," The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 19, 1995.
Mary Helen Washington, Foreword to Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1990).