Monday, November 09, 2009

Poverty in humility…

Every day he humbles himself just as he did when he came from his heavenly throne (Wisdom 18:15) into the Virgin’s womb; every day he comes to us and lets us see him in abjection, when he descends from the bosom of the Father into the hands of the priest at the altar. He shows himself to us in this sacred bread just as he once appeared to his apostles in real flesh. With their own eyes they saw only his flesh, but they believed that he was God, because they contemplated him with the eyes of the spirit. We, too, with our own eyes, see only bread and wine, but we must see further and firmly believe that this is his most holy Body and Blood, living and true. In this way our Lord remains continually with his followers, as he promised, “Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world (Mt. 28:20).”

St. Francis of Assisi. With thanks to Little Scribe.

Many Christians have gone through years of religious education and church services and have never trustfully surrendered to Jesus or to God or to any “Higher Power.”   Like all of us, they are still trying to steer and control the ship themselves.

But why would we entrust ourselves to Someone that we do not know, or that we do not know is inherently good, or we are not sure is even on our side?  It is the Holy Spirit, the inner Paraclete (“Defence Attorney”) who prompts us to trust beyond ourselves, who teaches us that God is good, and that God is more for us than we are for ourselves.

In fact, God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves.  But you have to try it to know it.

Richard Rohr, adapted from The Great Themes of Scripture

Poverty is like this. Poverty means, ultimately, the giving up of power. It is the poverty of Christ in Philippians 2:6-8 (NIV) “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

I seem to be being taught a very little practical lesson in this myself today. I had planned to go to Hilfield Friary this week; at the end of last week I came down with a horrible cold. I’ve been pampering myself all I can, but it just won’t go, and with my chronically bad chest I just don’t think I dare risk inflicting myself on the brothers in this state! So I shall have to continue with my enforced home retreat.

It’s silly little things like this that bring home to me our innate poverty as human beings more forcibly than the big, life-changing events. Somehow even in the grimmest of the big events, there’s a little place for the self to cast itself as a player—even if only in a bit part—in a big drama. Not being able to go away to see my spiritual director for a few days’ quiet, and being stuck at home with a stuffed-up head and a nasty cough, amounts to so little a thing that even my ego can’t find anything there to inflate itself with, and so I find myself strangely grateful.

The living and glorious God isn’t too proud to use snot and self-pity to explain to me my own poverty… “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV) And I do love him so!


  1. Mike, I hope you are feeling better soon.

  2. There is a joy, a 'perfect joy' in this powerlessness which is the heart of real spiritual poverty. When in this blessed state, Others perceive God more clearly because the human agent, often unknowingly, transmits God's power within his or her human weakness.

    And the human can't even rightfully desire powerlessness to a great degree as it would betray his own selfish interest (for he is still effected by original sin).

    Still, we create the illusion that we can call forth God at will in the way we press a camera shutter (at this moment I will allow the light to pass through). It's really laughable.

    But, God burst forth at His will usually when we are flat on our backs or He provides to others most fully when our hands are powerless and empty.

    Enjoy the paradox of your illness.