Before I venture forth, the title above might be misleading to some Catholics who are well aware of Ignatian spirituality. Its definition for spiritual poverty: that being the complete dependence upon God. Ignatian spirituality wants the complete emptying of ourselves so that God might fill us. The spiritual poverty I refer to is the lack of centricity with the holy Spirit, or God Himself.
I recently participated in a Life Teen proclamation in the Youth Ministry of my parish. This proclamation, titled Beggar, had a goal, and I’ll let Life Teen’s own words state it:
“The goal of Beggar is to help teenagers understand that Jesus identifies with the poor, marginalized, and outcast because He was one of them. The teens are also challenged to recognize Jesus in those on the periphery of their own lives.”
Now, I can, and did, consider the statement that Jesus was poor, marginalized, and an outcast. I felt it all wanting to some degree, but I believe my difference of opinion with Life Teen is perhaps more based in the fact that Jesus is the Son of God; in want or need of nothing other than the obvious lacking of man’s love for Him, His Father, and the holy Spirit. That is a powerful lacking, however it did not encourage me to consider Jesus as poor. Marginalized? Yes, by His own being. An outcast? Well that depends upon who you are talking to. As the benchmark for humanity being material wealth and human power over spiritual health and the divine, then yes, Jesus would be an outcast; His crucifixion being an obvious indicator that someone didn’t like Him much.
However, it was not this dilemma that riveted my attention to this lesson. It was the fact that in amidst this lesson’s some fifteen pages of teaching, there was only one sentence where there was a mention of anything “spiritual”. It resided in the section on Key Words:
“Poverty: A condition that causes a person to be deprived of wants and needs, which can be both material and spiritual.”
Putting aside the obvious tone of victimization in that definition, I could not but notice that there was no other reference to any form of spirituality or spirit, holy or otherwise, in the entire teaching. Now, I seem to recall a brief moment where Jesus says something about some guy coming after Him; a spirit of truth that will confirm the realities of Jesus’ words. And I do remember something called Pentecost in the book of Acts: a minor skirmish with immigrants, wasn’t it, who refused to speak good Greek.
All of this wonder caused me to consider the origin of material poverty; as it seemed to be the focus of this lesson.
Material poverty is all about us today; in all societies, despite our most ardent and consistent of endeavors, and in a plentitude that matches any past millennium one would care to discuss. Excuse me for saying, but despite all the prayers sent up in smoke – which claim spiritual essence – nothing has changed in regards to man’s propensity for poverty. Now man’s intellectual exercises – his material fixes – can claim great efficacy with immediate perils. It can feed literally millions who would otherwise starve. But that same societal intellect seems quite incapable of either recognizing or fending off the slow erosion of a society into the chaos that produces those immediate perils. Man’s intellect always touts its progress towards a proverbial light, yet can never quite see the darkness in that light. Man always believes his intellect has the answer, even though his intellect is but a portion – the mortal, imperfect portion – of his soul. It appears man just doesn’t understand his soul and its relationship to material poverty.
Let me offer a proposition.
Alright, so God is Spirit. I always like to start there. This assertion seems acceptable to most Christians despite the continual references to a He that’s packed full of human emotions and time/space conditions; as both the Old and New Testaments espouse.
God is eternal. Man’s intellect and body are not. Now, there lies within man something else; a thing that, in union with the intellect and body, we refer to as soul. This other thing is our spirit, and our spirit is spirit; one with God as Spirit. Our spirit knows the way because it is of the Way. Our spirit is perfect as God is perfect, and it has nothing to do with man’s inclination to distance himself from God as Spirit; that inclination being solely the purveyance by intellect and body. Yes, here’s my first arguing point or premise:
One’s spirit has nothing to do with one’s “fallen” nature.
Working on that premise, man’s perpetual inclination to assert his own authority, and thus sin, is an act of the intellect and/or the body. I’ll claim the guilt of both, however, it’s a bit of the Pinky and the Brain situation we have here; it’s mostly the intellect, for even physical sex is an act of power by the intellect.
Further, I’d like to dispense with any overt concentration on sin as our primary punching bag. As soon as we all get hyped on the immense lineage and library of sin, we tend to go off-road and get all rogue on redemption, salvation, etc. I want to keep this discussion tied neatly against the rock of spiritual presence and absolute duty to God so as to expose poverty for what I sense it truly is; a soulful disharmony with God.
There might be, and possibly more, two ways to envisage how man’s soul finds itself in disharmony with God’s Spirit. The first is to assume some form of separation or distancing has taken place. Coming back to my first assertion – that God is Spirit – therefore first requires a separation that must be spiritual in nature. No physical thing or force can influence, intrude, or violate God. Indeed so, He is the creator of all such things and forces. It’s a one-way street: the spirit realm is the cause of all things physical and dominant over the physical. Any separation must be a spiritual separation. Perhaps this is why the first three commandments deal with one’s alienation from God. It’s always one of the first three commandments that gets broken before any of the others can kick into gear.
This is a natural argument, and I would have taken this path of logic, and did so in first blush, but there is too much in scripture that points in a different direction. There are numerous references to the fact that one’s spirit, let alone the rest of one’s self, can never find separation from God. To note a more poetic reference: Psalm 137:7-12.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence, where can I flee?
8 If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;
if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.
9 If I take the wings of dawn
and dwell beyond the sea,
10 Even there your hand guides me,
your right hand holds me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me,
and night shall be my light” —
12 Darkness is not dark for you,.
and night shines as the day.
Darkness and light are but one.
And so this leaves me with the conclusion that there exists a second option for the disharmony that mankind obviously feels; a disharmony that causes all of us to implore the powers unseen for a more favorable relationship with this mysterious eternity.
Perhaps not a separation, but rather some form of deprivation; a weakening of the focus, of the choir of communion that all spirits share. Satan and his minions are, after all, still spirit. A horde of black flies can rile an Adirondack bear, and a smartphone can cause one to walk off a cliff. It’s a matter of intrusion not upon the spirit, but upon the intellect or body parts of the soul that can weaken the bond of spirit within and God. In some way, one’s spiritual being, while still in the presence of God, lacks full union with God.
Think of this…. That the sands along a sea’s edge are moist with the sea’s waters. That the sands lie between the land and the sea, and they hold the sea to its space and the land to its space. They, as one, are the great divide; friend to both sea and land. The sands move almost unseen to the eye; yielding to only the greater forces of earth and universe. Our spirits are grains of God, meant for communion and purpose; to hold man to God.
Lift a handful of sand from its place along the sea edge and walk it inland. Let it breathe in the air only and not the living water, and that handful of sand soon dries; first fragments and crumbles, then atomizes into separate grains that have little use in any purpose.
So to the spirit within a person. If you walk your spirit inland, yes, there is deprivation: the living water of the Deep, and yes, there is separation: one grain from another, and the further one walks one’s spirit inland from God’s water, the more useless they become for any purpose. An inland spirit is an impoverished spirit. Our spirits are the Great Divide, not death, for life without spirit is to be dead.
If I could use but the terms deprivation or separation, it might be easier to understand what is taking place here, but neither satisfy the reality of one’s spirit trying to live out its purpose in a world whose air is not the Spirit of God. Our spirits breathe a different air. In this foreign air of naturalism, one’s spirit soon wanes in its potential. I have referred to this in past writings as an immurement or entombment. The spirit loses its centricity with God, and can no longer do its purpose: to guide its allies – the intellect and body – through the rigors and dimensions of a life in love with God and man alike.
In such an existence, there would be no physical suffering, no poverty of the senses or being; for in perfect union with God, mankind’s communal love would be shared equally as a natural consequence. This is heaven, and Jesus assured us that heaven is here on earth.
Make no mistake. There is material poverty only because there is spiritual poverty. Material suffering and poverty is the result of spiritual poverty.
This was the focus of Jesus’ ministry. He wanted man to have a deeper understanding of his material poverty, and thus Jesus talked much, in parable, of man’s spiritual poverty. Take any of the stories that Jesus related to His disciples and listeners and you will find the root to be of God’s Spirit; its branches that of the spirits of man. While the branches are part of the vine, then they produce and sustain life in abundance, but if one separates a branch from the vine, then it is of little use other than to be burned as fuel. This is what happens to men and women who separate themselves from their own spirits and thus from God. They become nothing more than fuel for the material world.
Jesus had a special place in His soul for the material poor. We see numerous passages attesting to this concern. The material poor are victims to spiritual poverty. But never believe that He preferred the material poor over those who’s poverty was spiritual. That form of poverty is Jesus’ primary concern. If you examine the full range of interactions Jesus had with different people – as written in the Gospels – you will find that He shared his ministry with the expanse of humanity. And to them all He preached of the truth in John 3:6-8:
6 What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
All forms of material want are solved by spiritual wealth. Yet, we as the Church, suffer from spiritual poverty. The Church has majorly chosen pretense over substance, ritual over spiritual. By its physical practice, the Church poses its mantra of a salvific proclamation – that Jesus died for our sins – as the real essence of Jesus’ purpose here on earth. Not so, Romeo. Yes, Jesus did die for our sins, and by that sacrifice we might find life. But little is said about how to actually find that life – how to put our right foot in front of our left – leaving its disciples to pretty much figure that out for themselves. Our insistence upon a Christ-centricity has essentially immured our spirit-centricity; causing me once more to remind us all that He asked the Father for the Advocate to come after Him; this Spirit of Truth. If Jesus thought less of the Advocate than of Himself, He might not have spoken the words in Matthew 12:31-32:
31 Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
I do not want to hear less of Christ, I just want to hear more of the Spirit and the spirit within a man. The spirit within a man knows the Way as the holy Spirit knows the Way. The spirit within a man knows only of the beach along the sea and the compact communion that is shared by the sands on that beach. Our spirits breath the holy Spirit as its air. The spirit within a man is the Great Divide that binds man to God.
If man hopes to find the Way, only the spirit is adequate and qualified to be the guide for him.
I’ll finish with Luke 11:33-36:
33 “No one who lights a lamp hides it away or places it under a bushel basket, but on a lamp stand so that those who enter might see the light. 34 The lamp of the body is your eye. When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness. 35 Take care, then, that the light in you not become darkness. 36 If your whole body is full of light, and no part of it is in darkness, then it will be as full of light as a lamp illuminating you with its brightness.”
Jesus is talking about your spirit. Now, go read Romans 8:1-8.
God Calls Us All Into His Service – Reese