Beatitudes in One Sentence

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by Wassily Kandinsky

What does the Beatitudes, summarized, say?

Divinely blessed are you:

  • when you feel that you are spiritually cut off from God;
  • you deeply grieve your aloneness;
  • the grief sifts you down to your essence;
  • causing you act authentically and with integrity in the world;
  • and though being authentic brings you mistreatment;
  • you don’t mistreat others in return, but instead see the world through their eyes

because THEN the world that God intends can burst into being – through your grief, struggles, efforts, and authenticity – a world of love and peace and joy. The kingdom of heaven on earth.

And then you – and all of creation – will be happy.

Though Pain May Come

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Be Yourself by bollee patino

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Beatitudes employ classic speech technique: Jesus tells us what he’s going to say, he tells us what he’s saying, and then he tells us what he said, expanding along the way. He is truly a master orator. He returns here in verse 10 to ‘the kingdom of heaven’ with which he began. He also repeats the righteousness theme that he used in the middle of the Beatitudes.

In this penultimate verse, he begins summing up. He says that blessings abound for all those who are mistreated for being themselves, as God created them. Furthermore, by being our true selves, despite the suffering that may come, we create the world as God intends it to be, i.e., heaven.

So when we are pursued by those who would do us emotional, physical and spiritual harm, when we are told we need to conform to the world’s conception of who we are rather than God’s conception of who we are, we are enlarged with God’s Spirit. We are fortified so that we can continue our struggle against the wisdom of the world and toward the blessing of the divine.

I think of LGBTQIA groups. I think of the Syrian refugees, numbering in the millions, fleeing together from those who harm them. I think of the vilified Boomers. The vilified Millennials. I think of all who are attacked for being who they are, for striving to be as God intended them to be.

I know where some people go with this thought. We’re supposed to suffer. Sometimes it gets wrapped all up in Jesus’ crucifixion; we’re suffering because he did, because good Christians suffer for their faith. Suffering is God’s plan for our lives, according to them. So, is this what I am saying? Is pain and suffering somehow orchestrated by God for my own good, and for the good of the world? No. NO. Just NOOOOOOOooooo. That’s not what I’m saying AT ALL. I’m not saying that God orchestrates everything, but that God USES everything to our good.

I can give an example close to home. When my husband died, at his own hand, I was devastated. I was destroyed. A horrifying grief bowled me over, consumed me, causing me to live literally from one breath to the next. “Take the next breath. Don’t think further than that. Take the next breath. Don’t think further than that.” Over and over, because to think larger than the next breath was to be overwhelmed by devastating pain. “Breathe…breathe…breathe…” was my mantra. I wondered when the agonizing pain would end.

Well, the pain never ended. It never will. But what happened was that, over time, my soul expanded, allowing me to encompass the grief. Over time, sorrow did not constantly overwhelm me. Instead, it lived inside me as merely one of many emotions and thoughts.

Here’s the blessing (spoiler alert – Jesus already told us about it): with the ability to encompass such huge grief comes the capacity to encompass huge joy, as well. I appreciate life so much more, finding ridiculous delight in the smallest things. I found happiness – the blessedness that Jesus is expounding upon in the Beatitudes.

Did God send harm my way to expand my soul? Again – NOOOOooooo. But God will use all things to our good – even aiming the poison arrows of grief toward blessing. Jesus, in calling all who suffer ‘blessed’, says that though pain may come, we will be enlarged, so that our capacity for happiness – blessedness – grows beyond our imagining.

Expanded in Spirit and happy are those who are mistreated for daring to live as their divinely blessed selves, because in their noble struggle, they help create the world as God intends it to be.

Peace Workers

 

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Art by Yuri Chasov

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. 

This is one of my favorite Bible verses. Perhaps because I am someone who sometimes struggles internally with feelings of anger and anxiety, the idea of being a peacemaker is very appealing. I don’t know that I’ve ever been very successful at fomenting peace, but it’s the Beatitude I most resonate with.

The word for peacemakers, eirenopoioi, means peace workers. It also means those who are sent as envoys of peace. Jesus is saying that those who actively work for peace are blessed. It’s interesting to note that this word only appears in the plural – it is communities, nations – groups of people – that actively work for peace that are filled with God’s Spirit.

The word translated called means to proclaim in a loud voice, to bestow a title upon someone. This is a public proclamation – you are the offspring of God! You are a follower of God!

On the other hand, we are not peacemakers when we:

  • ‘other’ those who are a different race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, or chronological age;
  • engage in online verbal skirmishes to prove we are ‘right’;
  • take intransigent stands about politics and religion;
  • post personal insults about those with whom we disagree – both public figures and private citizens.

These examples leap to mind as Americans battle it out to determine who will be our next president. Supporters of the three septuagenarians still in the race have been brutal. Tribes are forming around the two most extreme candidates, and those gangs are attacking each other and the man in the middle. Insults, misconceptions, propaganda, and verbal violence abound.

Bottom line: the ends do not justify the means. We will not be called children of God, no matter how righteous we believe our cause, if we are not actively working as envoys of  peace.

Divinely blessed is your group when you are actively working for peace, for you shall be publicly proclaimed as children of the one who holds and sustains All.

Sifted

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Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

The word pure has some negative connotations today. It’s been used as a weapon against women: purity culture. It’s been used to describe extremist expectations: purity test. Purity is used to determine who is in and who is out, who is safe and who is a target for attack, both verbal and physical.

So what, exactly, does Jesus mean by pure in heart? I sure hope it means something different from the hammer word that it’s become.

The word pure, katharoi, literally means unmixed, i.e., uncontaminated. In other words, a sieve has been applied, and all impurities have been strained out, leaving only the pure product. And the product in this case is the heart – the metaphorical, not the physical.

The word kardia is used over 800 times in Scripture, and exactly ZERO of those times does it refer to a physical organ. Instead, it’s always used in a figurative sense to indicate a person’s inner self – their mind, character, intention. In short, their true center.

Who is handling the sorting sieve? God. Not society, not community, and certainly not an individual. It is God and God alone who sifts us with the mesh of mercy, giving help to us in our need, without putting us to a test to see if we’re deserving. Because none of us are. Because all of us are.

And when we are strained and sorted, we will perceive and experience God, the one who owns and sustains everything (the literal meaning of theon, God.) We will be connected to Source.

Divinely enlarged are those who have been sifted by God down to their essence, for they shall be in communion with the Source of all.

Get Right Inside

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Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.

Mercy is a word I associate with crime, punishment, and the legal system. In my mind, to be given mercy means to be granted forgiveness for my transgressions. It makes sense that Jesus would say this, because he said it in the Lord’s Prayer, as well.

Except that this isn’t what Jesus is saying at all. The Greek word eleos (the root of the word that is here translated as merciful) means to be compassionate and empathetic: to be tender toward those who suffer, without consideration for whether they deserve what is happening to them. It’s not about forgiveness for transgressions, it’s about completely disregarding the ‘transgression question.’

The equivalent word in Hebrew is hesed. It means to give help to those in need, without giving heed to whether or not they are deserving. It is to respond impartially with the love of God toward all:

  • Toward the houseless person cluttering up the downtown street.
  • Toward the person who just took the parking spot you were waiting for.
  • Toward the politician whose policies you detest.
  • Toward ALL.

And Jesus is commending those who already do this. This isn’t a command, it’s an observation. One that we all would do well to remember in this era where it’s easy to publicly pop off with judgmental statements on social media. How well received are our opinions by those who disagree? Being filled with judgy outrage does not promote happiness – as Jesus wisely observes.

My favorite translation of this verse is Barclay’s (edited to be inclusive):

O the bliss of s/he who gets right inside other people until s/he can see with their eyes, think with their thoughts, feel with their feelings, for s/he who does that will find others do the same for them.

Blessed is the Journey to Ourselves

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“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” – Matthew 5:6

Both the words for hunger and for thirst carry the connotation of deeply desiring something. This isn’t a casual want, it’s a driving need.

And what do these people need? The word translated righteousness literally means the state of being as we ideally would be. It includes the concepts of right thinking, right feeling, and right acting – which are Buddhist concepts straight from the Noble Eightfold Path. As I’ve mentioned before, Jesus seems very familiar with Buddhist thought.

This verse says that these people, those who are starving for their best selves, are divinely blessed, for their desperate desire will be abundantly met.

When we fervently yearn to be our own true selves – not someone else, not what we think we should be, not what others think we should be – our journey to ourselves, (and therefore to divine blessing), has begun.

And because Jesus was talking about ‘us’ as a group, not only as individuals:

Who do we yearn to be as a people?

Be a War Horse

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Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

This has never been my favorite verse. When I first came to Christianity (the fundamentalist flavor), I was taught that this means to be quiet and submissive, and to acquiesce to earthly (male) authority. <snort> Yeah, that’s going to happen.

Actually, I tried. I really did. I tried for years to be a quiet and gentle person. I still vividly remember the day when, sitting in my living room reading the Bible, I realized that after 20 years on this self-improvement course, I was further from being a meek person than when I’d began. I started sobbing. My (late) husband, Lee, came into the room, knelt down beside me, and asked what was wrong. Between my sobs, I explained.

He looked puzzled. “But,” he said, “I married you because you were strong and outspoken. I like that about you. I wouldn’t want a meek wife – that wouldn’t even be interesting.”

Mind. Blown. Enlightenment!

Still, I approached this verse today with a bit of trepidation. I needn’t have worried. It turns out, the word translated ‘meek’ or ‘humble’ is ‘praeis’, which is a word applied to a horse that has been broken-in. According to one source, armies used to go into the hills and get wild horses. These would be trained for several months. Some were unbreakable, and these were returned to the wild. Others were used as pack horses. Some were ridden in normal circumstances. But a very few – those who were smart, responsive, calm in chaos – those became war horses. These praeis were strong, determined, powerful – but they trusted and obeyed their rider in all circumstances.

Praeis, then, means self-control and discipline, listening to the Holy Spirit’s whispers and following in trust, whilst retaining one’s determination and strength. I’m struck by the notion that it’s a very Buddhist concept. I keep noticing that Jesus seems to be familiar with Buddhist tenets, and to be interweaving them into his teaching.

‘Inherit the earth’ is a phrase is used many times in the Old Testament, and almost without exception, it refers specifically to the geographic area that God promised to Israel. The word ‘earth’ means the ground, not the planet.

However. Being that Jesus is Jesus, I suspect he’s taking a well known phrase and giving it a twist. (Especially since he later tells the people not to be attached to things of the earth.) So what does he mean here?

I think he’s referring to the kingdom of heaven that he references in verse 1. In the Beatitudes, he’s not just alliteratively stringing together sentences, he’s building a thought. He’s showing people how to create this kingdom of God on earth. He’s saying that

those who as a people show discipline, self-control, strength and determination will bring about a land filled with love, joy, and peace.

This is a very different concept from what I was first taught. But it’s far more in line with the Jesus that I’m beginning to understand as a revolutionary. He wasn’t telling the people to quietly submit – he was telling them to band together, to be disciplined and strong, to resist the corruption rampant in their land (and dare I say, their government), and to create a new kingdom where justice and mercy reigned.

And he’s telling us the same.

The Jewish leaders were right to be worried about him.

Parakletos

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“Holy Spirit” by Colleen Shay.  https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/colleen-shay  

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

When I think of the word ‘mourn’, I think of people who look vaguely sad, who perhaps stare out the window in silence. For me, the word just doesn’t fully describe the full gamut of grief – the wailing, carrying on, shouting in anger, moaning with guilt and regret – all the extreme emotions that come with loss.

Jesus says that those who are in danger of being carried away in their anguish and despair are divinely blessed, because comfort, ‘parakletos’, will come. Jesus also used the word ‘paraklete’ to describe who would be sent to comfort us after he left the earth. The early church believed this was the Holy Spirit.

Parakletos means ‘to walk alongside and to call’. In the old Testament, it was used to describe angels, prophets, and others who advocated before God on behalf of the people of God.

What I hear Jesus saying is that when we are ravaged by grief, we will be blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit. We will be enveloped, loved, comforted, and completely enfolded in divine Presence.

That does sound like a blessing.

Rule the Universe

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I am still working on Matthew 5:3. I’ve worked through “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, but what about “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”? Again, Strong’s Concordance is my friend.

The phrase that is translated “kingdom of heaven” is “basileia ton auranon.” “Basileia” is the canopy of the sky and everything in it, i.e., the universe. “Auranon” doesn’t appear to mean literal land (a kingdom), but it means the power and authority to rule. So a literal translation might be “the authority to rule over the universe.”

“Filled with divine favor are you when you are spiritually impoverished, for then you have the authority to rule over the universe.”

This seems so Buddhist to me. It encapsulates the Four Noble Truths. 1) Life includes suffering. 2) The cause of suffering is clinging to our mistaken understandings, including that we are individuals. 3) Suffering ends when we empty ourselves of our mistaken beliefs. 4) We can achieve enlightenment by prayer (meditation), living authentically and ethically, and by developing wisdom.

Isn’t that what Jesus is saying?

1) Life is suffering = Feeling beaten down, abandoned, isolated;
2) We have a mistaken understanding = acknowledge our spiritual destitution;
3) Suffering ends = be made large with divine blessing;
4) Achieve enlightenment = With understanding, we become an partner in the entire universe.

And I remember that “blessed” is plural – this is a group activity. That brings to mind the response in Nineveh to Jonah’s (belated) proclamation of impending doom. “The people” believed Jonah, and immediately repented – everyone from the sheep in the field to the king in his palace fasted, wore clothes of mourning, and prayed. (Hey, I’m just repeating what the Bible says – don’t ask me how sheep pray. I suspect they do it far better than I.)

We, too, need to repent, to turn toward God and empty ourselves of false personas,  as well as our ideas about what constitutes righteousness. We need to be open to the infilling of Spirit. Big breath, because that means I need not fear emptiness – rather, I should be happy to be an open vessel, and trust that Spirit will make me large with love, peace, and joy.

“You will be filled with the Holy Spirit, enlarged with divine favor, when you (as a people) empty yourself of false notions of spirituality and worldly striving, and then you will all live in a universe of love, peace, and joy.”

Maybe tomorrow I can move on to the next verse?

Destitute

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“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Or in the CEB, “Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:3

What the actual what is this about? Happy and hopeless are not synonyms…

As usual, Spirit is way ahead of me. You see, I’m reading Henri Nouwen’s Show Me The Way, which is a Lenten devotional. In today’s reading, Nouwen says that the way of Jesus is the descending way. Jesus chose a life devoid of home, wealth, strength. He lowered himself to the place of the beggar. Nouwen says,

“God has descended to us human beings to become a human being with us; and once among us, descended to the total dereliction of one condemned to death.”    (pg. 17)

He goes on to say that the descending way of Jesus is also how we can find God, that we can only find God’s presence when we become deeply aware of God’s absence. This reminds me of St. John of the Cross and the dark night of the soul. St. John says that to feel God’s presence, we must come to the place where “both sense and spirit are stripped of all perceptions and flavors. The soul is made to walk in darkness…” (Starr, Mirabai; Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross, (c) 2002, pg. 94, for any who are interested.)

I read Nouwen and St. John before beginning today’s SOTM study, and when I opened my Bible, I realized I was being Spirit led, pretty much by the nose.

The word translated as ‘poor’ in the KJV is ‘ptochos’, which means to crouch and cower, as a beggar bent with their hand out. It means to be completely without wealth, influence, power or position. It doesn’t mean to be merely poor – it means to be completely destitute.

The word ‘spirit’ is ‘pneuma’, which means breath, wind, and Spirit. So the phrase ‘poor in spirit’ really means those who are absolutely spiritually destitute and have no connection with God. They are spiritually breathless. Dead.

Well, that’s harsh, isn’t it?

Perhaps not. I think Jesus is talking about the dark night of the soul. About not being able to sense God – about feeling spiritually cut off, which makes us hungry for the presence of God. It’s only when we are so desperate for divine presence that we are willing to let the light shine in the darkest of places, so that connection and healing may happen.

(As an aside: I love the paradox. “Full of the divine are those who are completely bereft of the divine.” Jesus was a master wordsmith, his sayings full of nuance and stacked meaning. “Spiritually large are you when you are spiritually empty!” His koans would make a Zen master proud.)

When we are aware that we are devoid of God’s presence, then – and only then – can God make God’s voice known. If we are filled to the brim with our own sense of righteousness, if we assume that our decisions and actions are God driven, we have closed our ears, and cannot hear God. But those who are bent in two with the knowledge of their own spiritual destitution may hear God, and thus enter into communion with the divine.

It’s not enough to be individually aware of our spiritual poverty. Are we aware as a church? As a community? As a nation? Do we know and acknowledge that we are spiritual beggars, bereft of the voice of God? Nouwen says,

“God’s way can only be grasped in prayer. The more you listen to God speaking within you, the sooner you will hear that voice inviting you to follow the way of Jesus.”

We can’t listen if our ears are stopped with the words of false prophets – including our own. If we – individuals, churches, communities, nations – are puffed up with our own righteousness, we are deaf. Destitute. Dead.

It’s only when we stop the self-righteous chatter and hear the resounding silence of the absence of God, when we acknowledge our dire poverty, that we can begin to hear God.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit…