The Power of Spiritual Poverty

Every Sunday we drive from Creston to Cranbrook to attend church, a drive taking anywhere from one hour to an hour and a half depending on the traffic and who’s driving. It can be a time of contemplation or one of evaluating the driving abilities of those around me. I’m ashamed to admit I do more of the latter.

But come on, really… there’s the prairie driver who cautiously maneuvers through the twists and turns of mountain curves but then hits the accelerator as soon as a straight stretch opens up. Then there’s the group of motorcyclists driving 80 km/hr; I’m glad you appreciate the scenery but some of us want to get home before dinner. (At least they stayed at 80 in the passing lane.) And don’t get me started on all the RVs and trailers.

Driving in summer Sunday afternoon traffic makes me realize just how far I have to go to reach to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Defining Spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” is something I sing every Sunday. I am not entirely sure what poor in spirit means, but I know I’m not there yet.

I used to ponder the phrase ‘poor in spirit’. Does it mean to be shy or to have little or no self-esteem?

What exactly does ‘spirit’ mean?

So I googled spirit, and after discounting ‘poor in spirit’ as being deficit in alcoholic beverages or ghostly presences, I was left with ‘spirit’ as being more of an attitude or mood, the kind of spirit we see being expressed in the Olympics; the spirit or will to compete and to win, the spirit of achievement. The kind of spirit we tried to pump up at school spirit rallies in order to cheer our team to victory.

But isn’t this a good thing, why are we supposed to be ‘poor in spirit?’

Unfortunately, this type of spirit does not include God, instead it encourages a sense of human superiority of achievement without God. Even beyond this is the renegade, the maverick, the spirited individual who chooses to live their life above the crowd and apart from community. This describes many of our heroes who are also arrogant, prideful and have a belief in their own superior judgement of right and wrong.

That’s who I wanted to be. I always thought I was different. Books and TV shows taught me being different meant I was special and above the crowd, I was better than others. Over the years, I’ve realized everyone is different. It’s only within a loving community that differences can be recognized, nurtured and shaped. Unbridled individualism and a life lived apart from God can result in stupid choices and broken relationships.

Broken to Be Stronger?

I remember some of the books I read as a pre-teen about high-spirited wild horses being tamed by trainers who had to break their spirit. In this case, spirit was used as equivalent to will. Our schools, our prisons and our spy agencies all have techniques to control the strong-willed, to break someone so they become compliant.

So like the horse trainer, does God want to break my spirit? No, no, a thousand times no. This type of spirit refers to human nature apart from God. God wants me to be fully human within Him. He lets me experience the consequences of my arrogance, pride and judgmental individualism until I am alienated from everyone who cares. In other words, I need to break myself before I realize who I am is shaped by my relationships with others around me and by my relationship with God.

The second part of the first beatitude is ‘for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ This means the poor in spirit will experience the kingdom of heaven right here and now. The ‘poor in spirit’ recognize that everything comes from God. They are free of the arrogance, pride and the passions of this fallen world. They know they are dependent upon community to be complete persons.

I believe Christ intended this statement to be the introduction to the rest of the beatitudes. Everything afterwards leads to this goal.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.’

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Patricia Anastasia Bartlett is the author of 'Glimpses of Glory',…
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