Well I almost made my goal of finishing this series by Easter. It is the Monday after Easter though and I am just getting to the summary now. Looking back over the previous posts they could use some editing. Some of the phrasing is a bit rough and there are plenty of straight up typos. Working through these beatitudes as I have has been challenging. We have not gotten very far on each. As always, I suppose, there is still much that could be said. In this conclusion I will try to keep my considerations focused. As written earlier we can see the Beatitudes as both describing the life of discipleship, and as prescribing a method of discipleship. These are closely related and yet importantly different.
In stating that they describe the naturally unfolding life of a disciple we are making a very strong case for the grounding of our spiritual development in reality. We are saying that spiritual ascent is subject to certain laws, spiritual at least; perhaps physical too. (In as much as we believe these two separable.) We do not often consider spirituality in this way. We see the physical world as hard and true and our spiritual life as a reprieve from the unyielding dictates of matter and its forms and movements. There was something familiar about the progression of these beatitudes looking at them in the way we have here. The insights that came forward were from a lifetime of, an at times unfocused, discipleship. There certainly is nothing in them that seems strange or out of place. And the insights into both the dependency of some of them on others and the ultimate inter-dependency of them all to the whole were drawn from both experience and reason. In truth, meditating on the Beatitudes in the way has made many hidden things plain.
We discussed at the start the natural requirement of becoming ‘poor in spirit’ to commence discipleship. To start through any other door will hamper growth, and likely will put us on the wrong path all together. We also discussed how mourning is a very natural outcome of the disposition profound humility. In Modern Man in Search of a Soul, CG Jung states:
It seems to be a sin in the eyes of nature to hide our insufficiency—just as much as to live entirely on our inferior side. There appears ti be a conscience in mankind which severely punishes the an who does not some how and at some time, at whatever cost to his pride, cease to defend and assert himself, and instead confess himself fallible and human. Until he can do this, an impenetrable wall shuts him out from the living experience of feeling himself a man among men. Here we find a key to the great significance of true, unstereotyped confession—a significance known in all the initiation and mystery cults of the ancient world, as is shown by a saying from the Greek mysteries: “Give up what thou hast, and then thou wilt receive.
Or as Jesus states concisely in Mark 8:35,
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
The fact that Jesus lays out the same spiritual conditions as Jung and the mystery cults of old should encourage rather than discourage us in faith. Though we may not have been inclined to look at our spiritual growth as subject to laws, that fact seems inescapable. At least in this first stage, something like what Jesus describes can be found elsewhere in psycho-spiritual literature and practice. Later in the book Jung spends some time writing how catharsis is indispensable to healing and growth. He even places it as the stage in psychotherapy following emptying. Catharsis here is the realization of hidden secrets of the soul, and for Jung is bound up with confession. Catharsis brings up from the subconscious mind bits of uncertainty and hurt that can cause a good deal of suffering in our waking life. This is very analogous to Jesus’ statement, “Blessed are those who mourn”. So we see the first two beatitudes are firmly rooted in the practice of several Western spiritual traditions.
We will cannot here show how the proceeding beatitudes represent the natural unfolding of the disciples life any more than we already have in the previous posts. That must be the effort of a larger work. Instead we should conclude by looking at the prescriptive use of the Beatitudes as we have been considering them.
If we can haphazardly walk through these blessings as they are naturally unfolding one into the other, we can also take the process more consciously. I intend to use these eight statements of Jesus as a form for meditative and active discipline. Having already experienced each to some extent in my Christian walk, this will not be entirely new territory. But I hope being intentional and mindful will bring more things to my awareness. This will not be easy work. The good thing about Jung is he writes from an earlier time, before his sort of contemplation was co-opted by New Agers. The work he describes is difficult, perilous and of uncertain outcome. I can’t imagine it otherwise for using the beatitudes in this way. As Christians we are blessed to still have available strong medicine in these Scriptures. Often the contemporary world, reacting to its Christian heritage, wants to make everything as easy as possible. It associates painful challenge with Christian judgmentalism, and so too often sets the spiritual path as its antithesis. Often quite consciously stating that the whole sickness of the contemporary West will be remedied by removing all rule and guilt. This attitude give far too much to Christianity as the origin of law and the guilt we feel in failing to live up to it. Though there is certainly particular focus and even special pathology produced by Christian discipline, these deep feelings of failure and loss obviously have their root in our being and not in Christian discipline itself. In other words, Christianity offers a solution to a problem of our existence that is acknowledged by all deep considerations of our existence. As testified by Jung and the Greek mystery cults, catharsis is indispensable in spiritual ascent. We can live behind a wall of protection if we choose. The work of breaking down this wall and facing ourselves will be painful and difficult. Challenging, yes, but another law of nature is that great gains are not earned by easy means.
For those reading this who are not Christian. I think the spiritual process described in the beatitudes would be helpful to anyone; in the way types of Buddhist meditation can be helpful whether one is living fully in that way or not. This is not to say Jesus is giving us a form of tough self help here. We do not have time to go into it here, but, though natural in outcome, after the initial stages, required for any form of transformation, Jesus is meaning to direct us along certain lines. At least spending some time musing over the Beatitudes as we have been discussing them in this series will give a very good overview of what Christian discipleship entails.
Getting down to the details of the practice I intend, if I could, I would cloister myself for eight days of contemplation on the beatitudes, one per day. Eight weeks would be better. Perhaps sometime I will be able to do this, but family and work life do not afford this luxury now. My work is at times solitary and physical though, so I will commence each day with a period of meditation for an hour on each beatitude, and do my best to keep mindful of each during my work day. The first day practicing emptying myself, the second facing the painful realizations that practice has revealed and so forth. Can’t say I have more than an intuition about this journey at this point other than I am compelled to take it.
Happy Easter Season.
For my Orthodox siblings who are just getting going on Lent, ha, bought my first bottle of wine in forty-six days yesterday. Malbec, it was delicious.