All Saints Day 2020
All Saints 2020
The poet Fanny Howe writes, “The face of a human that lives from light, and is open to silence, is usually the face of someone poor. Poverty is not always a condition. It is a way of treating the material world. It is non-dominating. The poor in spirit are those who are—regardless of their condition, up to a point—non-acquisitive and non-transgressive. Non is close to silence.”
It’s possible to read the 8 beatitudes as an unfolding of the first one, Blessed are the poor in spirit; to find in them a kind of portrait of one who “lives from light and is open to silence.”
Blessed are the poor in spirit—blessed are those who come to understand the spiritual life as a process not of acquisition and attainment, but surrender, a continual stripping away. When we let go of our endless compulsive grasping—after assurance, pleasure, power, approval, wealth—and embrace our fundamental poverty, we make way for the superabundant spiritual wealth of the Kingdom.
Often we grasp after and cling desperately not to perceived goods like wealth and pleasure but our wounds. Our sense of ourselves becomes so enmeshed with the ways we’ve been hurt that to let in the light of healing seems to threaten our very existence. For this reason we need to mourn and grieve deeply over our wounds so we can know the comfort of real healing and move on. We mourn for the ways we’ve been sinned against, and also for the ways we’ve sinned, and so taste the secret joy of repentance, the “joy-making mourning” spoken of by the monastic fathers.
Meekness, a “non-dominating” spirit, grows from this mourning and allows us to inherit the land of our true self, our whole self, the land that comes to us as brothers of the one who was “meek and humble of heart.”
With meekness, we hunger and thirst for our own righteousness, that we may be just, people of integrity; without it we accuse and judge others, forcing them to conform to our understanding of what is “righteous.” In the words of Erich Fromm: “There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as ‘moral indignation,’ which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue.”
The next beatitude: Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy, features the most direct connection between our disposition and the corresponding blessedness. The more we stretch our hearts to forgive and show mercy, the wider those same hearts become to receive the mercy with which the Lord continually surrounds us. Of course, “God loved us first” and “while we were still sinners,” so our hearts are first stretched by receiving the free gift of mercy—they grow wider or tighten up in so far as we allow the love and forgiveness we’ve received to spill over into our encounters with others.
Similarly, the more we polish the mirror of our heart, the more accurate an image of God we see depicted there. And so: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.
The more we are steeped in mercy, the more we build up peace in our communities, a solid peace, based on truth. We become more willing to have difficult conversations for the sake of restoring harmony. Peacemakers are true children of the Father who makes his rain fall and sun shine on the just and the unjust alike: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God.” As Pope Francis both describes and models in his recent encyclical, a true peacemaker genuinely cares about and works for the wellbeing of all.
Because we are so attached to our wounds, and addicted to conflict, peacemakers are often attacked. The last beatitude, “Blessed are they who are persecuted…” can be seen as the culmination of true poverty of spirit. The willingness to suffer emerges as the ripe fruit of all the other dispositions described: he is blessed who is poor in spirit, who mourns for his sins, who grieves over wounds, who hungers and thirsts to be just, who delights in showing mercy and so polishes the mirror of his heart. One who can willingly embrace persecution and suffering is happy because he is truly free.
Where in my life just now is the Lord inviting me to let go of greed, acquisition, grasping? Where am I called to surrender? What am I holding on to that I can now let go? As we grow each day, a little more, in poverty of spirit, we find that, as someone once said, “There is no give and take, only give.”