Archive for February, 2012

Blessed are they that hunger and thisrt for righteousness…

Posted in Uncategorized on February 27, 2012 by ancienthopes

It is difficult for many of us in our Christian cultures/traditions, who experienced a saving encounter with Jesus, and a deep assurance of God’s forgiveness of our sins, to really appreciate the complexities of the Sermon on the Mount. We tend to focus on the “blessed” (the subject of the sentence) and the promise (result clause; for theirs is…), but not the predicates (poor in spirit, mourn, meek, etc.). This is because we westerners, who like things clear cut and rational, do not like tension and paradox. Jesus saved me from my sins! Why should I have to worry about them anymore? I am righteous in God’s eyes, covered with the righteousness of Christ! Why should I have to trouble myself with spiritual striving? Doesn’t this smack of works righteousness? We fall back on religious slogans, and tend to be lazy with regard to what the Bible really says about us. Let us be truthful about ourselves. We tend to be complacent and presumptuous on God’s grace and goodness.

Now we look at those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Good heavens! How can many of us in our affluent culture even know what it means to be really hungry? We might know something about thirst, but probably not in a life threatening way. Those who are poor in spirit, mourn their lack of righteousness, and have become meek in light of these realities, become really hungry and thirsty. How can we be hungry and thirsty when we are so full of ourselves, and are basically content with our spiritual state? We read this beatitude, and perhaps are moved by the beauty of the words, but leave feeling like we are missing something. This is because true spiritual hunger and thirst is alien to us.

How do we get there? Well, it is clear from the position of this beatitude in relation to the previous ones. We have to see our spiritual poverty, we have to mourn, and we have to be meekened. What could be a better beatitude for this Lenten season? Why not really fast? Why not get to a point where we are really hungry? Then ask ourselves, “What am I really hungry for?” Just a suggestion … but a very old suggestion; a biblical one! 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized on February 21, 2012 by ancienthopes

Once one is able to feel like God feels, to mourn what is not right in ourselves and the world, watering their souls, as it were, with their tears, one begins to live and move in harmony with God. In a nutshell, this is what it means to be meek. Meekness is often associated with weakness. Actually the opposite is true. The well-known illustration of the horse is helpful here. A horse that is not meek but wild and willful is no good for war. A horse that has been trained by fire and will not flinch before the roar of cannon is meek and ready for war and great deeds. We are in a war. If we are not meek, we will chaff when our wills are crossed, dig in our heals, or bolt, and be defeated. If we are meek, we will, like the war horse, move in harmony with God, will not be afraid of the din of chaos around us. We will accept what God gives us each moment as the best that can be for us, and live in gratitude and contentment. I know so very few people who live in true contentment. An old puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs, named one of his books The Rare Jewell of Christian Contentment. This is one of his insights that has stuck with me over the years:

“By knowing their own hears they [the meek] know what they are able to manage and by this means they come to be content. Perhaps the Lord takes away many comforts from them that they once had before, or denies them some things that they hoped to have got. Now by knowing their hearts they know that they were not able to manage such wealth, and that they were not able to manage such prosperity. God saw it, and , a poor soul says ‘I am in some measure convinced by looking into my own heart that I was unable to manage such a condition,’ A man that desires greedily to hold on to more than he is able to manage, and so undoes himself.”

It is clear that Jesus here is picking up on Psalm 37 in this beatitude. A person that is not meek frets and complains, and is therefore darkened to the wonder and beauty of what he does have and that is around him. The earth is not his. On the other hand, the meek embraces what he has, however so little, and lives in profound thankfulness. As the Theological Dictionary of the OT has it, meekness “is the human quality that makes it possible to live in harmony with the world.”

Blessed are they that mourn

Posted in Uncategorized on February 13, 2012 by ancienthopes

I tried to present the paradox of blessedness and poverty of spirit in the last post. Blessedness is being flooded with creation goodness and power. However, there is so much of ourselves that obstructs this flow of blessedness. When we see this, we are confronted with our poverty. This is called humility. Humility has always been considered the foundational virtue, the base upon which God builds our spiritual lives. This is why Jesus begins the beatitudes with “poor in spirit,” because all the other beatitudes follow and build upon this one.

When we see ourselves as poor in the spiritual and moral qualities for which our yearning souls so very much long, the next step in our spiritual development is inevitable─tears. For many of us, and I include myself in this, tears do not come easy, or at least as easily as they should given the reality of our situation. Sin creates hardness in the soul. If we mourn, we often tend to mourn for the wrong things, such as loss of our own comforts, the crossing of our wills, people hurting our feelings, etc. To mourn for our spiritual state is truly a powerful advance in the spiritual life. Actually, it is a gift from God, called by St Teresa of Avila the “gift of tears.” The gift of tears is to feel what God feels, to really feel our poverty of spirit, to mourn for the sin and darkness all around us. All too often we simply do not see our own blind sides, and rather than mourn the moral abyss around us, we are entertained by the sins of others and our culture beamed to us through the media. It was said the great preacher George Whitfield could not get through a sermon without weeping.

The gift of tears is the gift of seeing and feeling what God sees and feels. We must pray hard for this … I am preaching to myself. Without this we will remain trapped in our own illusions about ourselves and our own judgments about the state of things around us. Tears are the raindrops that soften the soil of our souls. The channels open, and creation blessedness flows unobstructed with the tears. God help us!

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Posted in Uncategorized on February 6, 2012 by ancienthopes

Blessed are the Poor in spirit,

Immediately Jesus confronts is with a conundrum. “Blessed” as we have seen, is a achieving a state of primal power to grow and prosper and be everything God has created us to be. This is a warm and happy idea! However, Jesus juxtaposes this creation word with the very opposite idea of “poor in spirit.” Simply said, to be poor in spirit is to come to a deep knowledge of one’s own spiritual and moral poverty. In other words, one is truly blessed when one is completely convinced that one is not spiritual at all! This is a cold and unhappy idea. What is Jesus saying here?

Well, to begin with, this flies in the face of our deeply rooted human assumption that spirituality is essentially a consoling and self-affirming thing; that spiritual growth is to be understood as an increase in our own personal power. In reality, true spirituality increases as we see ourselves as we really are, and come to grips with the vast regions of spiritual poverty within. So we do not become more powerful, but become more and more dependent on God and His mercy in our lives. Spirituality is becoming empty of ourselves so that we can be full of God. It is counter intuitive. The Bible, and the mystical fathers and mothers of the Church, always taught that the only way up is down.

Being poor in spirit is to be full of self-knowledge. Many Christians are simply strangers to themselves. They know themselves to be sinners in a general sort of way, and in their conversion experience had a powerful experience of divine forgiveness, but if you press for specifics on the day to day, they come up with a blank stare. Part of this is presumption on the grace of God. To know that all of your sins are forgiven by the work of Jesus is critical, but it is only the starting point of one’s life in Christ. It provides the safe place where God can reveal the true nature of our need and poverty. Self knowledge, or being “poor in spirit,” is therefore both painful and a blessing! Painful because the truth hurts; a blessing in that it throws us upon God and His mercy. Indeed, we are truly blessed because we know the truth, and the truth sets us free. Hence the paradox of blessedness and poverty.

Does this make sense? Any comments of anyone’s experience of “Blesses are the poor in spirit?