The one about…poverty.

Have you ever experienced being poor? The dictionary defines poor as:

lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society.

Yet poverty isn’t just financial or material hardship. Poverty can take many forms. We can be physically or mentally disadvantaged, not capable of doing or processing life as we once could or the way others do.

We can be emotionally poor, those days or seasons where we go through the motions but emotionally we’re quite numb and disconnected. There are other times where we’ve been overwhelmed by emotion and we then feel drained, exhausted by what life demands of us. There are times where we lack the resources to function coherently in the world and we’re simply not able to relate to those around us in a life giving way. We might also describe this as spiritually poor, when we’re low in spirit, those times where we feel void of sparkle or vitality, somewhat bereft of energy and purpose.

Often it seems poverty is a comparable state. Maybe we compare our financial, physical, mental, emotional or spiritual wealth to what we perceive others to have or maybe we compare our wealth or lack of, to what we’ve previously experienced. Sometimes we simply measure our wealth against what we believe we’re entitled to and believe that it comes up short! That said, when we’re in a place of need the knowledge that there are people in the world with less might put things in perspective but often isn’t a huge comfort! Yet there must be something we can learn from the poverty we experience.

One thing all types of poverty seem to have in common is that those who are impoverished find themselves at the end of their own resources. Poverty, of whatever kind, can leave us helpless, at the mercy of others; be it the system, individuals or the universe.

There’s a book called “The End of Me” by Kyle Idleman, it’s a great read, I bought it because I liked the title. For me, the concept of “the end of me” sums up poverty quite well. That experience of being at the end of our own financial, emotional, mental, physical or spiritual resources. Have you ever felt like you’ve got to “the end” of yourself, as though if one more bad or difficult or trying event occurs you might actually fall apart? Do you ever dread checking your emails, or hearing the phone ring or waiting for the post to arrive because you’re so spent that if you’re required to do something else, pay one more bill, or sort one more disagreement you might just break down?

What if that’s a good place to be? What if experiencing poverty, requires us on some level to surrender control, to recognise we can’t hold it all, that we can’t keep going at that pace? To recognise that some “fixes” take time and we simply have to surrender to the moment, to the universe or to our need to dominate?

What if finding ourselves at the end of our own reserves means we’re in a place where we’re instead ready to receive? Maybe running out of our own resources means we have to look to others or other sources?

What if in that place of poverty there is more room for “otherness” (if you need a word, make it up!), more space for something or someone else? Maybe in a place of poverty there’s more space for creativity, for new ideas to be birthed? What if in that place we’re more willing to try new methods or adopt a different outlook and then those occasions, where we feel we’re at the mercy of the universe, actually become opportunities for something new to occur? What if it’s in that place that we find a whole wealth of story, of possibility and of life? What if that’s where the adventure really begins!

The one about…feeling blessed!

I took the dog out for a walk last Sunday evening, the air was warm and still, the sky blue and the sun shining. The children had enjoyed a chilled day with ice cream, their gran visiting, a paddling pool and a bubble machine(what more could you want)?! All was good in my world, I smiled as I walked, I felt blessed!

It’s not always like that…on a number of occasions during the last few weeks I’ve left to walk the dog in the evening with my sunglasses on, not to shade from the sun but to hide my puffy eyes from the tears of anger, frustration or sadness which were a reflection of how that particular day was going! I didn’t feel blessed I felt tearful and stressed!

So am I blessed even when I don’t feel it?

The reality is that as a family we have an abundance of food, numerous clothes to choose from and toys to play with. We have a house plenty big enough for nine of us…we have running water, a flushing loo, a variety of gadgets and machines that do the work for us! Those facts are all true regardless of how I feel. So I’m blessed, right?!

Which raises the question: what about the people who don’t have those things? Are they not blessed? Are they in some way cursed? Does the benevolent universe hold back good things from them? Does the Divine; God; the Source of Life choose not to bestow good things on some people? Or if you prefer to use the word ‘lucky’ rather than ‘blessed’ are some people just unlucky?

So here’s the thing, I’m not sure that attributing material wealth or physical health to the concept of blessing actually works. To suggest that we thank God for our children, our health or our bank balance is suggesting that God has given them to us which in turn suggests that those who don’t have health, money or children are bereft of Gods blessing.

So there are a couple of thoughts:

Firstly comparison is unhelpful, what is seen by some as a blessing may be seen by others as a curse and vice-versa! However that still doesn’t make sense of a world where some people have houses with rooms they don’t use most of the day and others are living in a tent surrounded by sewage.

I guess one basic response is that we can all live with an attitude of thankfulness regardless of what we do or don’t have because life itself is a gift…and it also follows that we get to choose how we interpret the situations we are faced with. There’s a well known phrase “count your blessings”…sometimes it’s helpful to literally do that and at other times maybe it’s about looking deeper into the circumstances to find the blessing within. There is evidence to suggest that those in our affluent part of the world perhaps aren’t as capable of noticing the blessings as those with far less?!

However, what if blessing is not about material possessions, the amount of wealth or even the state of our physical health at all? What if instead blessing is connected to an awareness of our inner self, our true self?

This is where the bible offers wisdom. Jesus explains to his closest friends who the ‘blessed people’ are…it’s not as you’d think!

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

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5 – The Bible

Jesus didn’t say

“Blessed are the rich for they can enjoy shopping…”

“Blessed are those with a promotion for they can buy a bigger car…

Or even

“Blessed are those who have a dishwasher for they do not need to wash up…”

It seems we’re blessed when we know who we really are. When we take time to get our inner thoughts and attitudes in order. It’s out of being real and honest about who we are that we’re able to experience life at its fullest, maybe that’s what it really means to be blessed. The beauty of this is that blessing us open to anyone regardless of circumstances. From that place of inner acceptance and understanding we can look at all those good things life throws our way (because we’ve either worked for them or that’s just how it worked out) and smile. From that place we can enjoy and celebrate all that we have and use the good things in our lives to bring good to others. Also from that place of inner peace and knowing we can journey through the times we feel cursed, the times we feel like nothing ever goes our way and the times we feel scared or sad or frustrated or angry. In those times we can acknowledge life for how it really is, cry; shout; find safe ways of expressing those feelings and then take a breath; allow others in to journey with us and have courage to look for and take the opportunities to move forward.

So as we journey through this crazy life, with a benevolent universe at work around us, an ever expanding, growing, developing cosmos, a God who is recklessly extravagant…let’s look for those opportunities to be fully present, to appreciate all we are; to pray, contemplate, meditate and from there to find ways of being a blessing to others because I think in doing so we’ll find we’re blessed, whether we feel it or not!!