Monday, March 17, 2008

Poor in Spirit

Monday, March 17 / 04, 2008 - Second Week of Great Lent
Translation of the relics of St. Wenceslaus + 938
St. Peter Michurin of Tobolsk +1820

I have always wondered about the 'poor in spirit' from the Beatitudes. My natural inclination has always been to regard this as referring to those who, for the sake of the Gospel, had managed to penetrate the spiritual realm and allow the strength of Christ to reign in them through a complete and overwhelming sense of mankind's spiritual poverty in this world. The upshot is that most of us are aware of our spiritual poverty only from a sense of duty and remain in a kind of weird denial, seeing our independence from God as a kind of wealth and freedom, etc. but hoping to get over this somehow. Of course we are Christians and we go to church and strive to make inroads in the spiritual life through prayer and striving for virtue, but this 'poverty in spirit' remains elusive. We can't help but view this kind of reliance on God as a kind of impractical extreme, like ditching our responsibilities and living as a homeless (mentally ill?) prophet on the street. It is not just that this is too difficult, however romantic, but that it's contrived and doesn't reflect the sobriety that is at the core of the peace of Christ.

Gotta be some middle ground in there somewhere.

On the other hand, plain old poverty - not the spiritual kind, but the impecunious lack of basic stuff and money kind of poverty - this kind of poverty is an old friend that visits pretty regularly. Scraping along to pay rent, tying wads of old nylons on the bathroom faucet to influence the course of various leaks and aggressive drips, wearing summer shoes all winter because they're the only pair I have. We are constantly putting off the replacement of one clunky household appliance in favor of tending to some other more immediate rent in the fabric of our daily existence. Riding the bus without paying because I can't afford a ticket seems to come more natural than it should.

Yet I can't consider myself 'poor'.

We regularly entreat St. Nicholas and St. Matrona and a half a dozen other favorite saints for work, for opportunities and for cash and it appears. We get by in this manner and have since I can remember. Everything in our life is a miracle of sorts. I don't mean the general miracle of 'isn't life just a hunky dory miracle' but the hard-line New Testament gold-coin-from-the-mouth of-a-fish-to-pay the man ala Peter kind of miracles. Fish and loaves stuff. The apartment we live in, narrow escapes from crippling bureaucratic blows, envelopes of cash handed my way in critical circumstance, job opportunities too numerous to even count and a seemingly endless stream of little things that have prevented eminent crises of the basic types that generally ruin your life - all this has come out of nowhere. Some would no doubt call this luck or coincidence. If so, then it has been a pretty comically excellent sting of luck. Truly, the regular poverty thing is much easier and, though less mysterious, has something to do with being poor in spirit.

Being a spiritual lame brain, I am usually forgetful of the source of my good fortune, my 'riches in poverty' as the line goes from the troparion to St. Nicholas. I tend to chalk it up my to being a snazzy knowledge worker-entrepreneur kind of guy with a sense of adventure. This suits my vanity most of the time when I am not seriously reflecting on the actual origin whatever it is I call my wealth and station in life. And then God will provide a momentary, sober glimpse into the mysterious 'poverty in spirit' thing. Just long enough to have a view of things really are in all their miraculous glory. It is amazing how simple it is to see in such brief, fleeting moments that everything is indeed from Him.

God could make us all blithering rich if He wanted, but instead He just lets us live as close to the edge as we are able so we can dip into the poverty of spirit every now and then, feeling the beautiful richness of our total dependence on Him.

The mysterious lock on this treasure chest is our inability to grasp and retain such moments as 'things'.

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