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THE BEATITUDES: Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit.

Sr. Doreen’s Reflections

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who have nothing to lock up. (Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment)

Anthony Bloom commenting on this Beatitude wrote: “Blessed are those who have understood that they are nothing in themselves, possess nothing that they dare call ‘their own’.  If they are ‘something’ it is because they are loved by God and because they know for certain their worth in God’s eyes can be measured by the humiliation of the Son of God.”

Just a reminder: Blessed, what does Jesus intend by using this paradoxical word?  In trying to understand the focus of the beatitudes I think that it is important to consider the meaning and the intent of this first word which we translate ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’.

As I said, most of us don’t know what to do with the beatitudes, but they sound like a beautiful and familiar poem, or a list that makes us feel guilty because we are not good enough, meek enough.  Upon pondering the beatitudes, I really think that Jesus is saying:  “If you feel you are living in a world where you don’t fit in, start creating a new, more loving world.  God and the kingdom of heaven are doing it with you.  Act like you belong to God’s kingdom.  Do something beautiful with God.”

Dostoevsky’s quote “Blessed are those who have nothing to lock up” hits the heart of this beatitude for me, and some ponders:

  • It is my awareness that I need God’s help and mercy and love more than anything else
  • It is letting go of the myth that the more I possess, the happier I will be
  • It is letting go of self and of all that keeps me locked in myself
  • It is my awareness that I cannot save myself
  • It is understanding that effective communion with all people, all are my neighbours, is of highest importance
  • What is crucial is the way we possess what we possess, the care we take not to let possessions take ownership of our souls, and how we use what we have to express God’s love and mercy

There are underlying questions for us, a challenge in knowing that there has to be emptiness before there can be fullness:

  • What is of ultimate significance in our life?
  • Our own comfort and reputation?
  • Our own importance?
  • Or the love of God and caring for those around us?

Our own Rule of Life talks about poverty in this way:

“The vow of poverty is grounded in the simplicity of life which Jesus live and taught.  Poverty as expressed in community of life and goods is a single-minded response to God, who invites our love to show itself through the gift of our whole self.  Poverty of spirit manifests itself in contentment, simplicity of living, and joyful dependence on God.  It requires us to use with reverence, responsibility and generosity all that God entrusts to us – resources, energy, talents, industry and time.  To be poor in spirit is to claim nothing as ours by right, but to reconcile to God, at all levels, the demands of self-seeking, self-preservation, and self-security.  In poverty we bear witness that God is our whole support.”

In my own reflection about poverty of spirit, I know that when I begin to accumulate (things, protection of my own time, reputation …) that I then begin to forget my common responsibility for those I live with, for the world and all its peoples.  It is an opportunity to ponder what it is I need and what it is I want – for these are two very different things, and it is not always easy to determine or figure out. It is so easy to become captive of our own possessions, and so spend our lives on hoarding and protecting them, when we could be loving one another and taking care of each other and the world for everyone’s sake

Joan Chittister wrote: “But one thing is clear: when we have what we need it is time to get serious about seeing that others have the same.  Then we have to begin to do more than charity.  We must demand just legislation and sufficiency for everyone.”

It was St John Chrysostom who said “we are joined to one another and to Christ like flour in a loaf”.   And with this beatitude, we are living in the kingdom of God when we love and respect the lives of those around us, no matter what they are like.  Poverty of spirit leaves us open to see God, to be aware of God’s presence, in the things and people that surround us no matter where we are.  This beatitude calls us to go out in simplicity and love, in poverty of spirit. 

This beatitude challenges me to reflect on the simplicity of my life: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who humbly recognize their need for God and for each other, for they will find they are already within the borders of the kingdom. We need one another to simplify our lives, to be freed of excess baggage in order to be more joyful, filled with God, and to live where God is most to be found in deeper presence with each other.

The kingdom of God, Jim Forest wrote, in his book about the beatitudes:

  • Exists whenever one person forgives another from the heart
  • Exists wherever mercy rules rather than vengeance
  • Exists in a tiny seed, a small measure of yeast, a pinch of salt, a spark of light in the darkness, tiny things are capable of vast expansion and a transforming effect
  • We enter living in the kingdom of God when we respect the lives of those around us, no matter what they are like
  • It is living in God’s presence, being aware of God in the things and people around us, no matter where we are.

“O Ancient Love
Take from me everything except my poverty
And your grace.” (Macrina Wiederkehr)

I share a Shaker song by Joseph Brackett that we have sung at the Convent, one that has become an often used prayer song for me, that seems to fit a reflection for the first of the beatitudes.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed;
To turn, turn, will be our delight.
Till by turning, turning we come round right.