Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Poverty of Spirit

I have been encountering very physical, tangible poverty around me for the past few weeks, but recently I was reading the Beatitudes and I was struck by the truth of Jesus' words, which can apply to those of any social status. “Blesses are the poor in spirit,” he said, the spiritually impoverished. Blesses are those with weaknesses, vulnerabilities, fears, failures, and frailties. They don't have to be financial, in fact, many people in fully developed countries with satisfactory incomes experience spiritual poverty.

When Paul complained about one of his weaknesses and short-comings, God replied “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). What if we truly believed this? What if we lived with the joy that our weaknesses are vessels of God's perfection?

We tend to take our images, photoshop them within an inch of their lives, and send out this highly edited version of ourselves to press each morning for public consumption. Social networks (this blog is no exception), are a perfect medium for selectively displaying yourself to the world without being real. We start to believe the facebook profile of our lives, instead of the real thing. We live under a myth that we are competent, but this myth only serves to further isolate us from community and from God. Think about it—the more we are willing to let others see our flaws, the more time we spend with them and investment in them, and they will reciprocate. But when we do not allow others to see our true selves, we become more and more separated from them. Life becomes a holiness competition, which basically resembles two siblings fighting over who's toys are cooler, when they all came from the parents and were intended for sharing. 

Holiness is a gift that is imparted to us within a community. It is not a status created by our behaviour in contrast to our community. Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together about sin and confession: “Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen in the midst of the most pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart.”

This fear of exposing sin can happen in the midst of pious settings, (such as a Christian college, or a Christian NGO), perhaps even especially in these settings. We are afraid of the judgement of the “holy” believers around us, not wanting to contaminate the apparent perfection, and therefore, we hide in our sin and guilt, contaminating the community in a deep and unseen way. We are pretenders.

We dare not admit limitations. We dare not be broken. Recognizing our brokenness, and even going further to confess it to others, requires an attitude of humility for individuals and gracious forgiveness in a community. It is not a monologue, it is a conversation of the sinfulness of each of us and forgiveness that we are all able to show because God's forgiveness is so vast. I know I have struggled to be open about my sins and struggles all the time, partly because I am intimidated by piety around me, and partly because of my own reservation and isolation, but the more individuals willing to honestly open up, the easier it will be for others to drag themselves out of isolation as well.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those willing to see themselves as broken, sinful, weak, clinging in desperate dependence to a saviour. Blessed are those who mourn, those who outwardly express the inward state of grief and dissatisfaction in their hearts. With this expression of emotions, people can find healing in the group around them.

To own our own form of poverty, to embrace the blessing of the poor in spirit, means to come before the mighty God with our brokenness, knowing how deep is love is, how vast his forgiveness is, and how his power is made perfect in our weakness. Can we be both saints and sinners at the same time? Can we be in spiritual poverty, but still be blessed? Maybe, in this upside-down kingdom that Jesus came to announce. Only the admittedly broken can most perfectly apprehend the mystery, the meaning, the all-surpassing sufficiency of God's grace.
Ok, that's the end of my ramblings that don't have much to do with anything...but really have a lot to do with everything. Peace and love. Marisa

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