Connecting to the Beatitudes
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All Saints’ Day:
Other Texts: Claiming the Beatitudes: Nine Stories of a New Generation, by Anne Sutherland Howard
To listen to earlier homilies click here
Draft text of the homily, please do not cite without permission.
I have to admit.
I don’t always find the Beatitudes comforting.
But not necessarily comforting.
For one thing, I find it hard to locate myself in the list, at first.
Blessed are the poor…that’s not me.
I’m neither poor in resources nor poor in spirit (I don’t think!)
Blessed are those who mourn…
Having lost both parents and other close friends, I have mourned.
That can be a way in, but mourning is not something I constantly do, so it might or might not fit.
Blessed are the meek?
Again not really me. I might like it to be, but I’m not really, not consistently. And we’re told they will inherit the earth, but I look around and think, “sure, but what’s going to be left for them?”
Those who hunger and thirst for “righteousness”? (that could be me, but I’m also pretty satisfied).
They will be filled—but with what? Too often what I see is a hunger for justice going unfulfilled and instead being enflamed by righteous indignation).
The merciful (again I like to think that I am, but being merciful is not a quality you can simply claim for yourself, it only really emerges in practice).
The pure in heart will see God, and I say “good for them,” but I always have a suspicion that that’s a pretty rarified list, and I’m not really on it.
I like to see myself that way so that’s a possible way in…until I someone cuts me off in traffic or I receive some other slight that reminds me of all the ways that I still tolerate and even perpetuate violence in my own heart. And how much I still ignore—and by ignoring—tolerate violence in the world.
And the persecuted? I’m not persecuted, nor do I particularly want to be.
Does that leave me out?
Does that leave us out?
It’s a passage that looks comforting on the surface, and becomes more challenging the longer I sit with it.
And we hear it on All Saints Day.
The annual celebration of the apostles, and martyrs who have “come through the great ordeal.”
The feast of All Saints developed around the memory of martyrs, and grew to encompass all those wild figures who perform superhuman feats.
Saints are unsettling figures and again make me feel sort of left out of the circle.
They’re fine to hold up as extraordinary exemplars of the faith, but if that’s baseline for an entry requirement…I’m not sure I can go there.
Over time, All Saints Day also got attached to folk holidays that take place around this time in northern Europe, but exist around the world, holidays that honor our personal ancestors. Those who have gone before—another group I’m in no hurry to join.
Eventually, this period of Hallowtide consisting of All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day developed.
In numerous cultures across the world these are days when the veil between the living and the dead is viewed as being at its thinnest.
When, in many cultures, it is believed that our ancestors and those who have gone before us into “that undiscovered country” return and pay us a visit.
In the Chinese religious traditions that I’ve studied there is often a distinction made between ancestors and ghosts, or between benevolent and malevolent spirits.
A benevolent spirit is one that is attached to a family. Part of a circle. One who is welcomed in.
A malevolent spirit is one that is unattached, outside of the circle, one who is not invited and consequently wanders in the wasteland…these are often referred to has “hungry ghosts.”
Those who are connected…who are related…who are part of the circle are happy, or blessed (which is what the word translated as “blessed” in this passage really means…”happy, or fortunate.”
And those who are unconnected…unrelated…not part of the circle are miserable.
Jesus is flipping the script again.
“The crowds that follow him” are not limited to the poor and the marginalized. There are wealthy patrons and some powerful people who follow him as well.
Ultimately “the crowds that follow” are all of us.
And he’s placing all those who are typically outside the circle…those who make us uncomfortable…those whom we are reluctant to invite in…the poor, the meek, the mourning, the persecuted, he’s placing them in the center of the community, and hence, those of us who spend much of our lives on the inside of the circles of wealth and power and privilege start to feel ourselves on the outside.
Trying to find a way into this “blessed” space but not always sure that we have what it takes, or the willingness, to get there.
The Beatitudes is another of those double visions: the world as it is and as we know it can and will be.
Saying that I find it challenging to enter into the Beatitudes might sound odd coming from someone who is a Fellow of something called The Beatitudes Society.
For those who don’t know the Beatitudes Society is a national leadership development organization. It equips leaders who are committed to helping faith communities be articulate, and public advocates for compassion, inclusion, and the common good.
One of the many things I’ve learned being involved with this ecumenical group is that struggling to find myself in the context of the Beatitudes has been the first step.
We all feel like outsiders at some level.
And we are all complicit in doing and saying things, and supporting structures that continue to make others feel like outsiders.
But we’re all in.
That’s the Gospel good news.
We’re all insiders.
And our task as those who hold more privilege and power is to make the all-inclusive contours of the circle more and more visible and obvious.
Jesus flips the script and puts those who are typically outside on the inside, but that doesn’t mean that we’re suddenly not in the circle.
We’re still very much there.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. By whom? Us.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for they will be filled. How? By us advocating for justice, equity, and peace.
Blessed are meek for they will inherit the earth. How? By all of us choosing to live meekly, humbly, and sustainably on this earth that has been given as a gift to all of us and placed in our trust.
We find our place in the circle, in the company of saints and all who have gone before by welcoming and inviting in all.
By going out and serving and bringing hope to others.
By remembering and practicing and living in ways that help others to see that we are all in this together and there are no hungry ghosts.
No one is outside the circle.
No one is beyond the reach of God’s love.
Therefore “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”