Monday, June 23, 2008

Mike: Response to Rami's 6/15 Post

With apologies for the delayed response (caused by a responsiblity laden conference in another city), let's return to the first beatitude.

Start by revisiting the matter of spiritual poverty. Such poverty may be experienced by persons of any station or circumstance. Spiritual poverty does not require or imply that we denigrate ourselves but instead that we accept ourselves as created beings, specifically women and men created in the image of God. As such, we have considerable potential, but still our reach is limited, finite. The Eden story, in part, is about our tendency to refuse to live within our God-given natures, to long to become God unto ourselves, and to take actions toward that end. To put it another way, we tend toward spiritual pride and the supposed blessing it promises. Jesus counters with a call to embrace the blessing of spiritual poverty: the ability to take joy in exercising our actual gifts and potentials and in appropriate humility before God.

The first beatitude calls us to a way of life which may relieve us of an unnatural strain. Consider our fingers. They, along with the thumb, are well formed for grasping and manipulating any number of items. So long as we use our fingers for such purposes, they serve us well. In fact, we're hardly aware of them. Call this the way of spiritual poverty or humility.

Suppose, though, that we bought into the idea that we ought to be able to bend our fingers backwards until they touched our wrist. Go farther and imagine we fall into a state of mind in which we cannot be happy unless we find a way to bring this about. Much wasted time, cracked and broken bones, pain and misdirected longing would ensue! We would make ourselves (and probably others) miserable. Call this the way of spiritual pride.

Appropriate spiritual poverty is crucial to the health of a faith community. When the faith community embraces its God-given nature (worship, service, humility, etc.), it may experience a kind of joy. A faith community which falls to pride, to the wish to be something it was not created to be, forsakes genuine joy for a false promise or hope. For example, each time a Christian church embraces the business model as its measure of success, it sets itself to experience pain and disappointment, for all institutions ultimately experience decline. On the other hand, a faith community which embraces the way of Jesus, the way of self-giving love, always has reason for joy. Even the "death" of such a community may have meaning.

Of course, there's more to the matter than personal joy or even the faith community's well being.

When we relax into appropriate spiritual poverty, we may become free to step outside whatever economic system may dominate our era. This frees us up to use the resources we possess in ministry to the poor and to seek reform or replacement of any economic system that oppresses the poor. I'm not sure that all of us are "made" in such ways as to be equally effective at both tasks, but I am convinced that the faith community is called to combine the endeavors.

I am intriqued by the practice you describe, the slowing or emptying of breath. While I am aware of such practices, I do not think any Christian commentator I've read notes the possibility of the practice among first century Jewish teachers. I would like to know more detail with regard to the first century setting.

You assume the beatitudes were addressed only or primarily to the inner circle. Perhaps this is so, but in any case they quickly found their way into broader circulation. It seems clear the early Christian community assumed they applied to all followers of Jesus. Certainly, this is my assumption.


Ayesha said...

I know only about poverty - that its bad and it needs to be ended. I would like to inform that there are organizations which are doing great to help the needy. United Nations is one such organization which has initiated a campaign to End Poverty by 2015. The campaign revolves around 8 major goals which, if accomplished, would ensure eradication of poverty. By the way, the campaign also has a community .

Aditi said...

@ ayesha I visited that community its a really good one .I ll let all my friends know about this.Thanks anyway.