Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
Words open windows. They invite a wide, clear view. Writing gives me a charge because of the discoveries to which words lead.
As I wrote Blessed at the Broken Places: Reclaiming Faith and Purpose with the Beatitudes, an early epiphany came with the term, “poor in spirit.” Few readers find this term clear and easy. When did you last hear someone say, “Gee, that guy is so poor in spirit!” It seems archaic.
Yet upon closer examination, I found that it packs tremendous power.
Through the years, I read “poor in spirit” with a meaning that groped through the fog in roughly the right direction. I saw the father desperate for his son’s healing who cried to Jesus, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” I saw the actual poor with spirits burdened by the struggle to survive. And I saw myself in the mirror with my spirit willing but my flesh weak.
But the best commentators and teachers showed me that “poor in spirit” means “beggars in spirit.” The poor in spirit realize that all they have or hope for comes from God.
Call it radical gratitude.
As a privileged, white, professional guy, I can only complete with silence the sentence, “I work hard, so I deserve…” I work hard because God gave me gifts to share and a capacity for joy in sharing them. It’s my pleasure. Literally.
Radical gratitude changed me in many ways, including the point above: There is indeed greater joy in giving a gift I realize I’m passing on from God than one I delude myself into thinking I bestowed upon you from my personal largesse.
Moreover, radical gratitude addresses the most vexing hang-up in my nature and indeed in all of human nature: Resistance to accepting what I most want – God’s love. What could I desire more than the love of the One who dreamed me, spoke me into being, guides me, wants my joy, who, in a word, loves me?
How radical gratitude changed me.
For so much of my life, God’s love more often than not seemed an abstraction, a principle, but seldom a lived reality. I suffered from a huge sense of responsibility to hold things together by my own resources and not bother God much with my needs. But when everything was lost or broken, I was ready to hear this blessing and in receiving all good things as gifts, receive God’s love like a little child.
Taking time at the end of each day to count blessings prepares me to face tomorrow with eyes open to signs of God’s love. Now the presence and leading of God seems more real and palpable in ordinary life.
Finally, amid work and chores and routines, I walk in confidence that God also wills my joy even amid suffering. This gave me the courage to love again despite my most devastating grief.
What does radical gratitude cost? Nothing except letting go of illusions of self-sufficiency, dropping the weight of the world, and letting God be the strong one. That’s reality anyway.
Take up your cross and follow him, yes, but gratefully walking in joy.