There was a story in the news this past week about two Harvard graduates who started a business called Getaway. Getaway has properties in rural areas outside of New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C.
Getaway provides minimalist vacation cabins in those isolated areas. The “cabins” cover approximately 200 square feet, and are little more than glorified garden sheds. For about $160 per night you can enjoy no phone, no television, no internet, no shopping, and no crowds.
The business markets itself to over-stressed millennials who are tied to their cellphones and burdensome jobs. According to the company’s website, the purpose of the Getaway vacation is to “recharge in nature, reconnect with people you love, and rekindle an interest in life unplanned.”
This company is not the only recent response to the high-pressure, de-humanized social environment that has developed as a response to technological growth and the demands of a consumer society. Social commentators have observed that the rise of religious fundamentalism and nationalist politics can be attributed to the desire to simplify a life that is perceived to be out of control. The Scriptures offer an uniquely faithful perspective on this issue.
Two otherwise insignificant people figure prominently in today’s Gospel reading. An elderly man named Simeon and an elderly woman named Anna had chosen to spend their dotage in the Temple precincts, awaiting the manifestation of the Messiah sent by God.
Quite unexpectedly, the Messiah appeared, though he was still an infant. Simeon responded to the fulfillment of his hopes by saying, “Now, Lord, you may let your servant go in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.” (Luke 2:29-23) Anna, in turn, “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38)
It might be tempting to think of Simeon and Anna as kindly, gentle old people, but I doubt this was true. What kind of people would they have been – waiting around the Temple on a daily basis? The Jerusalem Temple had no guest accommodations, no waiting rooms, and no lounge area. Simeon and Anna would have had to endure privation and discomfort in order to await the Messiah’s arrival.
These two elderly people were certainly determined; perhaps, even stubborn. They probably seemed to others to have been very eccentric, if not a little anti-social. They would have had to have been physically strong, more than a little tough, and unfazed by hardship.
I can’t imagine that Simeon would have been anyone’s favorite grandfather, or that Anna was anyone’s beloved grandmother. Rather, my guess is that these two were stoic, hard-nosed, and gritty. As such, they are examples for us to imitate.
I’m not suggesting that they are good examples of social interaction for us to follow; they probably weren’t very sociable people. I am saying that they are examples of tenacious hope. They were unbowed by years of waiting, years of growing older, and probably, years of taunts by those who saw them on a daily basis. They are examples of the kind of tenacious hope that is the only effective antidote to the stress, confusion, apathy, and de-humanizing anonymity that are the by-products of living in a society more concerned with things than with people.
There are many ways to try to escape the pressures of modern life. Minimalist cabins in the woods, religious fundamentalism, and nationalist politics are but a few. None of these escapes, however, produces any lasting change in one’s life or in the world. Lasting change, and lasting peace, can result only from something more enduring that escape tactics.
The Scriptures recommend a way of life that consists of a great deal more than skating through the challenges and disappointments endemic to our contemporary society. The Scriptures recommend to us a way of life that is based on a tenacious hope.
Simeon and Anna were tough and determined, not as an expression of anti-social tendencies, but as a result of holding fast to the hope that God would show them the divine plan of redemption.
A similar sort of toughness and determination is necessary for us. Each person is entirely free to choose how to live in a world that is sometimes unfriendly, sometimes stressful, and sometimes unpredictable. The Scriptures recommend a life of tenacious hope.