Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.(Mt. 5: 3)
One of my favorite places to lead worship was St. Paul Lutheran in Clinton, Iowa. The experience was made special by the members of the L”Arche community who worshipped there. L’Arche communities provide homes and workplaces for people with intellectual disabilities.
The first time I preached at St. Paul, I remember thinking how important it would be for me to extend my love to the L’Arche community members. It would help them feel included. It was a gesture of power and control, though. As a person of sound mind and physical health, I needed to show “them” they were on par with me.
Over the years, I discovered I was the wounded one. Despite being faithful in my worship practice, rarely do I leave the burdens of my week behind. They always influence the spirit of my sermons, prayers and presence in worship. Yet, every time the residents of the L’Arche community were in church, they radiated joy. Several of the community members would wave at me during announcements. Not a small subtle wave, but a big demonstrative wave with both arms up in the air. I’m not sure I have ever been in a place where people felt that good about seeing me. I was being blessed by those whom I was supposed to comfort.
In the early morning darkness grief continues to push me into the words of Henri Nouwen. He helps me discover how the mood swings between hopelessness and hope; darkness and light; abandonment and love can actually be a gift.
Nouwen uses the Latin word for blessing, benediction, to describe his understanding of the word. It simply means to speak (diction) well (bene) of someone. We need to hear someone speak good things about us. In his book, “Life of the Beloved” Nouwen wrote:
No one is brought to life through curses, gossip, accusations or blaming. There is so much of that taking place around us all the time. And it calls forth only darkness, destruction and death. As the “beloved ones,” we can walk through this world offering blessings. It doesn’t require much effort. It flows naturally from our hearts.
Wednesday was a day of unspeakable grief, but Nouwen’s observations came to life. My sister-in-law, who was in the deepest pit of despair over the death of her son, blessed everyone who walked into her house and presence. She took them into her arms, sobbed and would say things like, “You were so good to him…” and “You were such a dear friend…” and “He loved you so much…” The ones who came to provide comfort were blessed. It flowed naturally from her wounded heart.
At no point in my life have the words of the Beatitudes been so full of life and meaning. Speak well of Michael for his is the kingdom of heaven. Speak well of us who mourn for ours is the kingdom of heaven. Speak well of all the poor in spirit in your life so they might know the kingdom of heaven as well. Amen.
Click to read: Matthew 5: 1-11
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash.com and Liane Metzler