Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Years ago I presided at an outdoor wedding for the sister of one our friends in the neighborhood. It was joyous occasion, as weddings are. The reception took place in the same park as the ceremony, one celebration flowing seamlessly into the other.
As I mingled among a crowd of young adults I did not know, a lovely woman, standing by herself for much of the afternoon, approached me. She asked if we could speak, and we wandered away from the happy crowd. In tears, she told me she had been romantically involved with the groom for years. They had ended their relationship amicably, with mutual awareness that theirs was not a life-long relationship. They maintained a cordial, if distant friendship. She was surprised to receive a wedding invitation, but felt it was important to be there.
“Why am I so sad?” she asked. “I know we weren’t meant to marry, but my heart aches for who we once were to each other and for all that will never be.”
I consoled her as best I could. “Of course you’re sad,” I said. “You won’t always be, but there’s no need to will the sadness away. There’s a gift in the sadness, too.” I had once attended a similar wedding and knew something about grieving in the midst of joy.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
The passage known as “the Beatitudes,” a list of those whom Jesus declares as blessed, is filled with paradox and promise. Many whom he calls blessed may not feel that way in their current state: poor in spirit, in grief, with a hunger and thirst for a righteousness that remains unsatisfied. And while there is in each statement a promise of fulfillment, there is also the mystery of blessing in the midst of suffering infused, perhaps not with joy, but with a feeling of aliveness so powerful that it, in itself, is a gift.
There are three sacred occasions for which the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-11, is among the suggested readings: weddings, funerals, and the Feast of All Saints. In each, there is a recognition of the breadth and depth of human experience–for better, for worse; in sickness and in health; both sinner and saint.
“We do our people a great disservice,” a colleague said to me recently, “when we promise them only good things as a result of following Jesus.” Suffering cannot be avoided–it is as much a part of the human experience, and faith experience, as joy.
The suffering, we’re promised, will not last forever. Weeping may spend the night but joy comes in the morning. Two years later, I presided at the wedding of the woman who had approached me in tears and her new love.
But there can also be blessing in suffering, through the mystery of grace. How good it is, it’s often said, to have loved someone or something so deeply to feel the grief of loss.
And there is blessing in our hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessing in the longing itself and where it leads us.
There is blessing in acknowledging the rich complexity of each human life, that we are capable of both good and evil, and thus always called to a common humanity and acknowledgement of our reliance of grace.
“This being human is a guest house,” writes the poet Rumi. “Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. . . .Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
May that grace be real for you today and every day. May you feel the power of your blessedness in all things, even those–perhaps especially those–most costly gifts.