Obedience is the evangelical counsel that enables us to listen humbly to the revelations of reality and to participate joyfully in its unfolding.
Chaste, respectful love for self and others is the counsel that heals the inner discord we may feel due to a sense of alienation from others and from God’s guidance of our life for their own and our good.
Poverty of spirit points to the way we relate to natural and cultural things and the wisest use of them. This virtue can be a divisive, rather than a healing power, especially if it leads us to perceive ownership of possessions as life’s total purpose. When we allow having “more” to preclude our remembrance of the “More Than,” we may isolate things from the whole and Holy. So desperate are we to be the overseers rather than the stewards of creation that we risk entering into the bondage of being possessed by our possessions.
A one-sided concentration on things begins to dominate our imagination, expectation, and striving. We literally become so fascinated by ownership that we fasten ourselves, our energy, talent, and interest, to what we amass with the most avaricious mindset we can muster.
We reduce the richness of reality to what we own and fixate our attention on what more we can acquire. It becomes difficult for the full truth of persons and situations to reveal themselves to us when, in our mind’s eye, they are only a commodity to fill up our coffers.
We impose on our environment a narrow estimation of what we value, often at the expense of anyone who stands in the way of our attachment to acquisition. A “what’s-in-it-for-me?” mentality may prevent us from approaching things with a disposition of grateful stewardship. Instead we choose to treat them as objects to be used, possessed, and manipulated to serve our often grossly ambitious intentions.
Besides obscuring an appreciative view of reality, a one-sided approach to the importance of things may block the influence of other higher aspirations. For example, the possessions we amass become more important to us than the people we ought to serve.
To silence these higher ideals, we force ourselves to view the world through blinders bound tightly by straps of greed.
If and when avarice overtakes generosity, we may find ourselves clinging anxiously to material wealth and womb to tomb security.
The spirit of poverty awakens the sense of our dependence on God for everything; it arouses in us gratitude for every good and perfect gift. We see beyond the surface meaning of things to their mysterious origin in God.
This spirit diminishes any urge to demean or abuse the gifts of creation. Self-aggrandizement gives way to the healing power of selfless sharing. We refuse to foster the false conclusion that affluence, in and by itself, results in total satisfaction. We realize that people who are materially rich may end up being spiritually poor.
Consumption of food, clothing, shelter, information, and entertainment may appear to be totally satisfying, but they are not.
The more we resist this attraction to mere materialism, the less likely we are to become robotic consumers, oblivious to the needs of the poor.
Poverty of spirit prevents us from losing ourselves in the throes of commodity-collection. It invites us to avail ourselves of the grace of transcendent self-presence, freed from indiscriminate intrusion by propagandists who view life as if it were under their control.
Poverty of spirit has the opposite effect. We respect the beauty and wonder of God’s world. We distance ourselves from forces that curtail our freedom and try instead to show appreciation for all that we have been given to us by the Mystery. Only then can we celebrate the abundance that surrounds us and share our gifts generously with others.
Poverty of spirit teaches us the why and wherefore of not being depersonalized by mere possessiveness. It guards against losing the balance between affluence and almsgiving. We use the resources we receive from God while never forfeiting our duty to be charitable towards others.
Artists like the seventeenth century Dutch painter, Nicolaes Maes, and the contemporary American master, Andrew Wyeth, paint simple objects like a table setting, a four-poster bed, a basket of clothing, and familiar people like a laborer, a fisherman, a farmer—all of which and all of whom we have seen many times. And yet, until we view them as depicted by these artists, we fail to appreciate their connection to the mystery that sustains them. We notice perhaps for the first time their silent meaning and beauty. They evoke in us the paradoxical wealth of being poor in spirit and rich in gratefulness for all of creation.
Poverty of spirit opens our eyes to the awesome wonder revealed in works of art and architecture. Even walking through the gardens of a beautiful retreat center can relieve us from the tyranny of time urgency, pressurized production, and indiscriminate consumption.
We stand in awe of the richness of the ordinary; we enjoy the restoration offered to us by stillness and contemplative prayer.
Inner poverty invites us to detach ourselves from the surface appearance of things and to honor their sacred significance. We move from entrapment in mere ownership to appreciative abandonment to the mystery.
The healing power of poverty implies a wholehearted readiness to adopt as a permanent disposition of our heart the virtue of detachment. It enables us to express both our aesthetic and our ecological sensitivity.
Living in this liberating spirit creates room for the emergence of beauty in our homes and community settings. This experience of the divine essence of all that is surpasses the bent toward pragmatic usage and control and creates a favorable climate for religious presence.
That presence in turn lets us see how things—from something as small as an atom to the infinite reaches of the universe—are meant to be in harmony with the deepest ground from which they emerge. They appear in a new light, rescued from isolation as ends in themselves and numbered among what is of most value to us and worthy of preservation.