“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”
~ Matthew 5:7.
In the spiritual life, there is excessive emphasis on two extremes: the discovery of the start, and the finish line. But the indefinite crucible is equivalent to what chess players call the middle game. This is where drudgery and alienation happen, not at the opposite ends of the voyage. Deserted stretches of the middle game are the places of trial, and often the places of abandonment of faith. For some, however, the long stretches of practical life provide the stages for acquisition and success. For most of us, those unglamorous highways, with their innumerable offramps and detours, navigate the territory routed between the bulleted items on our résumés. Ungrudging contentment with ignominy is itself a gallant act of forgiveness.
I remember the heart-wrenching defeat of having been eliminated from the candidacy search for the job I wanted most, out of any job I’ve ever applied for. It was the position I desired all through the sacrifices of graduate school life, with all pertaining compromises and debts. Anticipating the opening, I volunteered two full-term practica at that university, hoping to impress them and show them what a good fit I’d be. Well, after the door closed between my steps and that land of Canaan, I eventually reached out to the out-of-stater they hired, and collegially treated them to lunch- saying nothing about the process, but instead took the role of introducer to this area and the local professional community. I’ve also continued supporting the university, as a professional and as a neighbor. I care very much about the success of the school. Are these such grand gestures? Perhaps, though I’m not sure. But they are decent gestures. I’m not certain about how forgiving I’ve been, but I do know that is the sentiment I most prefer.
Back when I worked in a small college, I befriended the chaplain, and immensely enjoyed helping his ministry as a volunteer. One day, I went to him for a few good words, after having experienced a crippling heartbreak. He could see how demoralized I’d been, and how aimless the road ahead looked. He said, “you feel cursed, don’t you?” I was so choked, I could merely nod. “Well, don’t be cursed. Be blessed.” He told me to consider myself spared, and that he knew a few things I didn’t know. “Really,” he said. “Be blessed. And if you don’t know what to do, just do the next right thing you know to do.”
What does it mean to be blessed, and how do we know when we are? How do we know when we are agents of blessing? In essence, it may not be for us to know. Doing the right, or decent, thing might be the more important matter. Holy writ offers us the Beattitudes, and these help balance human perspective as it concerns defeat and humility. We are told that the honorable approach to others and to life, whether or not we are appreciated, is to respond peaceably and with genuine civility. The “blessed are you” sayings of the Gospel are the basics which inform our specifics. For the many of us that must rely upon intangibles, we must find our luxuries in the unseen. We must find our recognition in assurances without plaques, titles, or lucrative portfolios.
We deliver provisions and furniture into swanky addresses, and then go home to gritty flats at night. The extent of our summer breezes and sunshine happens during commutes and snippets of weekends. Our oceanfront property is the city pier. We help others celebrate, and do so with honest cheer. We wish success to others. We conscientiously welcome and include the hirees that have bested us. Blessed are we!
If you wished you were blessed, well then, blessed are you. Blessed are you that consciously remember where you came from; you will be remembered. Blessed are those who look forward, along with those who strive to improve themselves. Blessed are those who are concerned with the well-being of those around them; there will surely be pleasant surprises from unexpected directions.
Blessed are those who yield to the right-of-way, and refuse to tailgate. Blessed are those who patiently wait their turn, and those who drive and walk gently upon this earth. You know you’re doing the right thing, following the high road that is worthy of community life. Blessed are those who recognize the unacknowledged and applaud the overlooked. Friendships are cultivated unawares every day, with each kind gesture. Blessed are those who leave disproportionately large tips at eateries. Servers bring food and drink right to your seat, and you are paying yourself with the goodness you show to your neighbors that serve you.
When you contemplate the beauty of creation, blessed are you. When you choose to see what is good, even when it is not obvious, blessed are you. When you boldly hope against the apparent and the predictable, blessed are you. Welcoming the ungrateful; deferring in respect; listening at meetings; playing fair; defending the bullied; voting your conscience; extending understanding; concealing your generosity.
Blessed are you. Blessed are you. Blessed are you.
Sixty floors rise above the sidewalks of Boston’s Downtown Crossing, and the developers are calling it “The Neighborhood in the Clouds.”
Still, the meek have a kingdom in heaven. Be blessed.