Saints in Progress

November 2, 2008

Denise Kelsall

All Saints’ Day     Rev 7:9-17     Matt 5:1-12


A long time ago I cut a pithy saying out of a newspaper. I can’t recall the exact words but the central message was that we are shaped by our attitudes. It said that we are 90% attitude and 10% talent and that people who succeed in life have an abundance of the right attitude.


Talent, beauty, strength, brilliance – all take a back seat to attitude in the way our lives develop.


Since then I have read and heard all sorts of similar takes on how to live and be from spiritual teachers and business gurus in expensive books, to Dear Marge columns in weekly magazines that cost just a few dollars. They all reinforce the notion that the vision for our life is determined by our attitudes, – how we face our own lives, our relationships, our problems and worries, how we see the world, how we see and experience the ultimate mystery that we call God. Everything is directed and coloured by our attitudes. As the famous saying goes ‘two men looked through prison bars, one saw mud and the other saw stars.’


You can call it the ‘power of positive thinking’ or ‘living in the now’ or perhaps the ‘power of prayer,’ maybe transcendental meditation does it for you - whatever method or practice we employ or discover works for us is usually informed by a desire to achieve the best and most harmonious lives for ourselves and those we love.


However, often I feel we are not even aware of our attitudes. Originally they are shaped by our environment, particularly our families and communities and later our peers. As we grow, break away and forge deeper and hopefully wider relationships with others outside our childhood gamut we continue to carry and morph these formative attitudes that have shaped us. Sometimes they are so injurious to seem to be insurmountable and here at St Matthews we often see this in devastated lives that bring people to the City Mission. This can be especially hard as often people have wretched and cruel lives through no fault of their own, and tragically are unable to dream or attempt anything different.


In today’s gospel from Matthew we listened to the Beatitudes or blessings. These Blessings begin the Sermon on the Mount which runs from chapter five to chapter seven. It is these two chapters that made Mahatma Gandhi a lover of Jesus – a Christian alongside being a Hindu and more from within his varied spiritual background. Gandhi narrates in his autobiography that on reading the Bible he plodded through the Old Testament without the “least interest or understanding.” But when he reached the Sermon on the Mount it went straight to his heart. For Gandhi it was the whole of Christianity wrapped up and is what endeared Jesus to him.


Crucially it was the moral or ethical teachings it contained that resonated with him. Abstract theological concepts like the Trinity or the atonement do not feature in these central teachings of Jesus – they are practical rather than dogmatic, about right conduct rather than belief.


The beatitudes are universal and although ostensibly addressed to a Jewish audience of the disadvantaged, the oppressed and wounded they contain profound wisdom that applies to all people everywhere of whatever persuasion. They are indeed a recipe of how to live a good and joyful life, and a life directed towards the God of all life that all people carry within.


The language can seem somewhat outdated. When I think of blessing the poor in spirit I think of humility which is about unpretentiousness and being utterly human alongside the next person. ‘There for the grace of God go I” we might say. Humility that brings deep thankfulness for small things, for unexpected generosity, for the unasked care of others, for the wonder of this planet, for the mystery of consciousness, for the gifts of love and trust in spite of pain, treachery and loss that often dog our lives. The kingdom of heaven rests in that openness and trust.


Blessed are those who mourn speaks of our inner awareness of how we betray and hurt ourselves and those we love through rash unexamined actions and words that we wish had never been uttered. It is about how our hearts hurt and cry and the comfort and strength we can find if we seek and rest in the God within.


Meek has craven connotations; gentle is a much better word. Blessed are the gentle, the peaceful and the kind. If the world returns to us what we are then the gentle will be peace for themselves and for others. The hostility of the world will not touch their core.


Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. This is about goodness and intensely wanting honesty and integrity to mark one’s life. If we want these things and hold them fast in our hearts then we will live them and they become part of us.


Blessed are the merciful. This is about compassion and forbearance. It is about recognizing that we all fail and make mistakes, and suffer for it. About not pointing the finger in haste and recognizing the truth in the old Indian saying of not judging till we have ‘walked a mile in his or her shoes.’ This demands a generous spirit and silence.


Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. For me this is the crux of these verses and speaks of attitudes and motives. As we prayed in our prayer for the day it concerns sincerity of heart, a longing for goodness, and a wholeness that comes with an integration of our outer and inner worlds. We have to take time, to still our busy minds and lives to hear the ‘still small voice’ where the God who dwells within is allowed to claim our consciousness and to give us insight. Only then do we, as the verse says, hear and see the ground of our being which is divine. Only then are we whole. Without this our lives are lived on the surface and we risk the opposite of wholeness – the tyranny of a divided self racing hither and thither without rest.


As the Sufi’s say “You yourself are the veil that stands between you and God.”


Blessed are the peacemakers, the reconcilers who bring us closer and help us to see the God in each other, and blessed are those who suffer for goodness and love as they remain whole and find the kingdom of heaven within.


Today we celebrate All Saints Sunday. I’m not sure I know what this means in real terms, but to hazard a guess I think it is about all those people who, over eons of time, have journeyed through life in the pursuit of finding a way to their own true sense of or union with the divine. Perhaps some embodied and consciously lived more of the beatitudes than us, and then perhaps not. But it holds that in choosing a spiritual path these universal blessings of Jesus ask for ways of being and attitudes that ennoble, enrich and deepen our humanity, making possible our hopes and dreams for ourselves and those who surround us. All of us, all people, saints in the making, all the world over.

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