Over the last few weeks, our whole country has watched residents in flooded areas of Texas and Florida be called to make a decision: to leave their homes or to hunker down, to walk or drive away or to cling to all they have come to value as their own. In short, to stay or to go.
One reason we have been absorbed in their stories is because they are our own stories. Throughout history, people like you and me, indeed, whole communities have been asked to decide whether to stay or go. Within the last 25 years, the people of Hong Kong (1997), in the face of a pending return to the control of mainland China, had to decide; the people of Scotland in a referendum (2015) had to decide whether or not to leave the British Commonwealth. Most recently, all of Britain had to decide whether to leave the European Union (2016).
Individuals have had to decide whether to leave a marriage, a job, their church which they have found less than welcoming, their homeland, their plans, their pets, their remembered safety and security.
To be faced with that decision – to stay or to go – is to stand on a threshold, to be called beyond ourselves as we have been. The deepest call is to be faithful to our heart, to our God and to the values which we know to be life-giving. How can we cross that boundary? Will we have the strength to do and to become anew?
Most of the time, people in these frames of mind or situations don’t have the luxury of a long time to think, and have to rely on their store of learnings, understandings, intuition, orientations, values and relationships to see them through. At times, no one asks us out loud whether to stay or go. We just hear it in our hearts. But sometimes the question is public, so that our responses can stir others to thought and decision as well.
To my mind, the most vivid biblical moment where the question – to stay or to go – is public occurs in Chapter Six of John’s Gospel. Jesus tells his listeners that He is the bread of life, the living bread. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. (Jn. 6.53)” Murmuring followed, and many of his disciples concluded, “This is a hard saying; who can accept it? (Jn. 6.60)” Jesus watched many walk away and then said to the Twelve “Do you also want to leave? (Jn. 6.67)”
There it is. Will you stay or will you go? Will you walk with me or not?
Thankfully, Peter spoke words of belief on behalf of all of them, and hopefully for us all well.
That is the clue when we are standing at our own personal thresholds. Dare to believe God first. Include and embrace the community in the decision in some way. Dare to go forward without clarity but with confidence in God and our choices nonetheless. “Another road will take you into a world you were never in. New strangers on the path await, new places that have never seen you will startle a little at your entry...May you travel in an awakened way” (John O’Donohue, To Bless The Space Between Us).
~Sister Joan Sobala