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Blessed are the poor in spirit

By Bill Loader

How can I know the loneliness of being without enough food, looking at my malnourished child, knowing it is too late?

How can I imagine the fear of random acts of violence, the bullying, and the violations on people not allowed a voice?

I can see more now than any previous generation. I can video scenes of destitution and watch them over and over again.

They pass my eyes like so many colours, so many pictures, a mist of too much to see, too much to know – I cannot see.

My eyes have learned to see and not see. My brain has learned to know and not know.

It is a fearful thing to be overwhelmed by just too much, too much human need. Other people’s pain is paralysing.

I want to pretend it is not so, merge the documentaries with the movies and blow it all away as fiction.

If I let it settle it will fall on me like dust and ashes, like a blanket of darkness crushing my soul.

My feeble efforts collapse beneath the weight. It is too much to bear. Something dies within me.

I can learn to dull my senses for relief. Let the radio talk constantly, the music fill the space for hearing; let them drown out the cries and give me peace.

I can escape into religious experiences or sense dulling drugs. Give me my patch of mown lawn, the silence of my cement fences, the comfort of barbecue smells and my friends and family. And why not?

But who said I must bear all that truth? Who said I can ever do enough? Who said I must have the answers? Who said it all rests on me? Why choose the guilt I can never bear without deceiving myself?

There are moments when we feel deeply vulnerable and severely limited – before human need in the wider world and sometimes before our own. We need not run away. Does God conspire to pretend we must be sufficient for all this?

Is not God’s love an acknowledgement of our humanity, including forgiveness for our sin, but more than that: being God when we can’t and should never try to be?

Does God in Christ not carry all this in brokenness? And of us he asks us to walk alongside and not to fear.

We do not need to fear that need will overwhelm us because we are not pretending we are sufficient to deal with it in the first place.

“In spirit”, in the spirit of shared brokenness and hope we walk with the brokenness of God and the poverty of people.

To do so is to be blessed in hope. It is sufficient that we allow ourselves courage to be present and not to run away, even when all we can sometimes do is cry silently and pray.

Then there can also be peace and joy but not at the expense of need.

Emeritus Professor Bill Loader is a Uniting Church Minister.

This extract is from his book, ‘St Patrick and the Helicopter: Theological Stories and Reflections For Young and Old’

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