Sunday, July 12, 2009

Shedding the "Me Attitude"

"Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This is the Beatitude I struggle with the most. As a child I interpreted it as meaning the only people whose souls dwell with God after this life are the poor. This idea made me sad, since I have always been blessed with everything a person physically needs to be content and successful in life. When I was in college I sponsored a child in Honduras. He and his family sent me letters about his progress in school and I learned the true extent of this child's physical poverty. I felt guilty for having so much, and I wondered about the inequality of the world.

Over time, I tried to view the teaching from other angles, and heard or read different interpretations. One day I looked up the definition of the word spirit. The Latin origin of the word is spiritus, which literally means breath. The Webster's Dictionary definition of spirit is "an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms." Then I looked up the word poor. Interestingly, one of the meanings of the word is "humble, or modest." I put these pieces together and came up with an alternative way of looking at this teaching.

"Blessed are the poor (humble, modest) in Spirit (a vital principle that gives life), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "

From this angle, a slew of new questions arose in my mind. What or who do I breathe for? What makes me want to get up out of bed in the morning? What can't I live without?

In the movie The Jerk, Steve Martin's character attempts to leave his lover. So he starts to walk out, but keeps coming back for objects that he thinks he needs. The list of exceptions goes on and on until he is out in the street with all of this junk and looks so ridiculous. It's a good comical take on the meaninglessness of material wealth.

I could say that after reflecting more on this Beatitude I came to the conclusion that I need nothing at all and I live for my family. I just can not wait to get up at 5:30 a.m., even on Saturdays, to make pancakes for my wide-eyed children. Well, that would not be entirely true. I am not sharing my faith journey with the world on this blog to lie about it. In fact, I'm trying to keep myself steered on the road less traveled in hopes that later, let's make it much later, I can catch up with Jesus.

So the truth is that, yes, I do love my family. My actions and personal decisions show that my kids and husband take priority in my life. Honestly, my feelings don't always follow suit.
That's fine, I'm still okay because I do not breathe for my children, my husband, or any other object, project, friend or family member. I steer myself back onto the road, trying to avoid the dark woods. I tell myself that I breathe for God. That's my purpose.

Now ask me why God wants me to breathe? I don't know, maybe it's to make pancakes at 5:30 a.m. every day. I might not ever really figure that question out. I know I'm not supposed to let stuff rule my mind and spirit, so I'm on the right track. Now I have to try to actually follow through, as the distractions hit me like a hailstorm. I must be poor in Spirit now, right? Um...but I do like to shop. I think I'm still dumb in Spirit, so it's time to reflect again on the scripture.

Luckily, St. Francis De Sales writes about this Beatitude. In Introduction to the Devout Life, he tells this little story:

"The halcyons form their nests like an apple, and leave only a little opening at the top; they build them on the seashore, but make them firm and impenetrable, that, when the waves surprise them, the water can never get into them, but keeping always afloat, they remain in the midst of the sea, upon the sea, and masters of the sea. Your heart ought to be like this nest, open only to heaven, and impenetrable to riches and all transitory things."

I suppose it is okay then, to have physical riches, but I must not let them rule me. Easier said than done. This feat requires constant prayer, for the more one has, the more complicated life becomes.

At a large family dinner one Sunday a silly debate arose at the table about what one would do or not do for an extravagant amount of money. Personally, I put my foot down at kissing Madonna on the lips, (the singer) like Britney Spears did at an awards show. My declaration sparked laughter, chides, and disappointment from some men at the table who believe they are very funny. :) I was just trying to make the point that money often changes a person for the worse. I'm actually afraid of having too much.

St. Paul writes in a letter to the Romans,
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."(12:2)

This quote brings me a little closer to understanding Jesus' teaching about being poor in Spirit. I know what it takes. I think that prayer is the way I will build my "nest" against the sea like the halcyon St. Francis talks about. I know I have to work to stay simple, and I'm definitely not simple enough yet.

So I pray about it like this:

Hi God,
It's me again. Loren, "the talker." I might need a sump pump for my nest. I know you can fix me.
Picture is of a Kingfisher Halcyon on a sea nest from
Dear Readers, I'd like to hear your own interpretations of this Beatitude. Send me a comment.


Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

You've said so much in here I'm going to have to come back and read it again. We love the movie The Jerk too, and I basically love anything with Steve Martin in it. I was thinking about humility today because there is an assistant coach on our team who does so much and is so humble and lets himself get kicked around a bit. I think he has a place saved in heaven. And I have also been recently thinking that I really don't want to be too successful as a writer right now because my family would probably suffer if I had to go on book tours and be famous. (Think of the now infamous Kate the mother of sextuplests.)

Loren Christie said...

Hi Elizabeth,
Well, I'd french kiss a walrus in exchange for becoming a famous author. See, now I'm going to Hell again. :)

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


Loren Christie

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