blessed are the poor in spirit

The Final Frontier

W.P. Wiggins
W.P. Wiggins

IT IS THE RARE SOUL who remembers particular lines from scripture for reasons other than professional advancement or private absorption, but I remember even as a child being totally riveted by the odder blunter saltier lines in The Greatest Story Ever Told—the ones that made me elbow my wry patient dad, like be kind to your father even when his mind goes, or the ones where the Christos isn’t so much godlike as he is a rattled guy, such as when he whirls and shouts who touched my clothes?!, after he felt the power leave him, what a phrase!

And one of those lines for me has always been blessed are the poor in spirit. I heard that for the first time as a child, of course, at Mass, late in the morning, drowsing between my alpine dad and willowy mother, in a pew filled with brothers seated with parental buffers so as to reduce fisticuffery, and like everyone else I was puzzled and nonplussed; wasn’t the whole point to be rich in spirit? How could you be bereft spirit-wise, but get a backstage pass to the kingdom of heaven? What was that all about? Was that a major serious printer’s error no one had noticed all these years? Was it supposed to be pear in spirit, or something artsy like that?

Diligent schoolteachers subsequently explained it to me, and my gentle wise parents explained it, and learned university professors explained it, and able scholarly writers explained it, and I got the general idea, that the word poor there is better understood as humble, but humble never really registered for me, because I was not humble, and had no real concept of humble, until my wife married me, which taught me a shocking amount about humility, and then we were graced by children, which taught me a stunning amount about humility, and then friends of mine began to wither and shrivel and die in all sorts of ways, including being roasted to death on Sept. 11, and I began, slowly and dimly, to realize that humble was the only finally truly honest way to be, in this life; anything else is ultimately cocky, which is either foolish or a deliberate disguise you refuse to remove, for complicated reasons maybe not even you know.

Of course you do your absolute best to find and hone and wield your divine gifts against the dark. You do your best to reach out tenderly to touch and elevate as many people as you can reach. You bring your naked love and defiant courage and salty grace to bear as much as you can, with all the attentiveness and humor you can muster; this is, after all, a miracle in which we live, and we ought to pay ferocious attention every moment, if possible.

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All Saints’ Day: Facing Death

What does our response to Ebola say about our attitude towards the poor in spirit? Photo via R. Gino Santa Maria/shutterstock

“Administration officials have repeatedly assured Americans that they were prepared for Ebola. Less than two weeks ago here at the White House, they insisted they knew how to stop this virus in its tracks. But so far, the virus appears to be outrunning the government. “

So began Scott Horsley’s report from the White House, one of three separate stories NPR’s news showAll Things Considered devoted to Ebola on Wednesday, October 16. According to yet another report, a recent Harvard School of Public Health survey finds that 40 percent of Americans feel “at risk” of contracting the disease.

We have Ebola on the brain.

Several of my friends expressed alarm when the first Ebola patient flew to the United States for treatment. Now we find that not one but two Dallas nurses have contracted Ebola, likely because their hospital did not adopt proper Ebola protocols. Americans know that their medical system is far better equipped to prevent an Ebola outbreak than are those in West Africa. We know our system is better prepared to offer effective treatment. But the appearance of multiple cases, one involving a nurse who took a commercial flight while possibly contagious, has people concerned. When a key public health expert says, “It’s a learning process, and . . . our confidence in the hospitals was ill-founded,” the rest of us might get a little nervous.

On Scripture: Enjoy the Super Bowl; Be Suspicious of Its Values

Football player in a tunnel, Brocreative / Shutterstock.com
Football player in a tunnel, Brocreative / Shutterstock.com

If the outcome of Sunday’s Super Bowl comes down to the game’s final play, and you find yourself inclined to ask Jesus to help your favorite team win, remember: It’s quite possible he doesn’t know squat about tackle football.

At least, when we read the opening sentences of his Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5:1-12), it seems his values are light years away from the confident and muscular ethos that football teams rely on for success. He directs attention in this passage toward the weak, powerless, and vulnerable elements of humanity. Consider these some of the groups he embraces:

  • The poor in spirit : referring either to humble people or to those who are broken and have lost hope.
  • Those who mourn : those who suffer loss and the feeling of emptiness that follows.
  • The meek : those who are gentle and unobtrusive, who refuse to use power over others as a tool to make things happen.
  • The merciful : people who willingly surrender their privileges or otherwise go out of their way to improve others’ well being.
  • Those who are persecuted : people whose refusal to give up their quest for truth or virtuousness results in the taking away of their rights, wholeness, or dignity.

Careful, Jesus, or you’ll get blamed for contributing to the wussification of America .

The kinds of people Jesus highlights tend to dwell beneath society’s radar. They often stay out, or are kept out, of public view. They possess little power. Most of us can find no good reason for aspiring to join these groups.

Eye-opening numbers about the Super Bowl … and how they stack up against other things going on in America.

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