Poverty of Spirit?

Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen. (Phil 4:12-14, 19-20)

Paul speaks quite literally here. It is well known that Paul on occasion traveled with little, and that he worked his trade as a tent maker in part to sustain his daily needs. He regularly thanks others in the Church for their funds which help care for him, and further the mission of the Church to preach the Gospel.

It is, quite clear that Paul is not speaking literally when he speaks of  having learned “the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry.” What on earth could that mean? Is their some secret to feeling less hungry? Paul tells us to fill up our stomachs with water to lessen the pains of hunger! No, I hardly think that is the message.

Paul is quite clearly telling us that our present physical situation is irrelevant, it’s how we are choosing to react to it that is. And he is saying that our faith is our strength, it is what gives meaning and the framework for assessing our true situation.

Have you ever had occasion to grumble about some problem that plagues you at the moment, only to be reminded suddenly of what real pain and suffering are all about? Television has the magic ability to place us in the tent cities of Haiti and in shelters in Japan, where people try to cope with having lost everything and often everyone in their lives. Then that pesky problem with the car mechanic comes into true focus doesn’t it?

Paul is saying essentially the same thing. God’s blessings and love for us give us the context of our true situation. We can see that our problems, big or small do not in any way dent or mar in the smallest measure that treasure which is God. It is from that framework that we can quietly and with confidence and calmness, make choices to move forward.

God truly will supply all that we need for the undertaking. He provides that shelter of love and perfect care that enables us to move with the assurance that we are not alone, not ever.

 This is never to minimize the agonies that can assail any one of us at any time. Religion is often blamed for offering people words of comfort while they die of hunger. This absolves none of us from our duty as God’s stewards to help each other to the very best of our abilities. It absolves no government from its responsibility to hold up its end of the social compact.

What is means quite simply is that wringing our hands and falling into depression and thus coming to a halt over our crises throughout life is not the answer. In fact, God gives us, as Paul points out, “in all circumstances and in all things” what we need to go on. For Paul it meant that he might go to bed hungry, but tomorrow he would still preach the Gospel to willing ears. The next day, God willing, some soul would offer to share a meal, and that would sustain for another day.

Perhaps we needs stand back and stop looking so far down the road, but turn to our companions in sorrow, and focus on each other and the next step. Surely we can make that one next step?  Surely we can. And tomorrow will take care of tomorrow.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Oct 09, 2011 @ 14:48:34

    Sherry, too often than I’d prefer to admit I have to go back to Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 6.6: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” That’s exactly what you describe here: remaining alert to what’s before us this moment and what we need to fulfill–or, in some instances, overcome–its challenges. Ironically, looking too far down the road (I love that!) makes us shortsighted and exaggerates anxieties about what we need and how little we have now. It’s like the manna: more than enough for one day is too much. And it’s also a very “Zen” proposition; living in the moment, trusting what the moment brings to provide for its demands.

    When I’ve been able to let go long enough to experience the kind of contentment Paul endorses, I’ve found it to be truly blissful way to be. But it’s also scary as all get out at times, as it’s close to impossible to imagine we can sustain the required trust and faith into the future. Yet we’re wise to try our best, because the alternative–chronic discontentment and lunging for lifelines that usually serve no purpose–is a really lousy way to live!

    You’ve done really splendid work here, encouraging me (and all of us who gather here) to practice contentment more and more. Thank you.



    • Sherry
      Oct 10, 2011 @ 11:35:58

      It is so hard to practice this, but when I think I’m getting entirely too wound up in my head, I try to take a breath, breathe and remember that compared to so many, I am deeply blessed. While planning is essential to live life, I do think that I for one often live too far down the road. And frankly I waste a lot of precious time that way. I know it’s Zen to remain more in the moment. Trust is hard given that there isn’t a lot we can trust in in the world today. Thanks for kind of well, bolstering my sometimes shaky faith in it. Blessings Tim, Sherry


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