This post begins a cycle of poems that explore the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus, as recorded in the book of Matthew. Though the word “beatitude” is not used in the Scriptures, readers have long given that name, which means “supremely happy,” to these words of Jesus. Each beatitude is a short, pithy proverb that presents a particular state of being or action and its consequence.
This first of the series, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,” appears, at first glance, to be paradoxical. How will those who are “poor in spirit” be “blessed” or supremely happy? The answer lies in the consequence: “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
This statement by Jesus goes directly against the philosophy presented in many other faiths as well as in much of our culture today, in which one’s self-realization, self-sufficiency, or richness of spirit supposedly brings about spiritual fulfillment. Here, Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are not the rich, not the full, not the self-realized or self-sufficient.
Rather, it belongs to those who realize their poverty of soul and their inability, within themselves, to enrich that soul. As Jesus mentions in Mark 2: “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick.” The Psalmist, David, corroborates this in Psalm 51: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.“
This short poem also makes reference to the Church of Laodicea, in the book of Revelation. The group in Laodicea, it seems, were the opposite of “poor in spirit.” Consider Revelation 3:17, their indictment: “ Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked[.]”
A very simple, three stanza poem, “Poor in Spirit” has the form ABAB, and is written in iambic tetrameter/trimeter: x/x/x/x/ . . .x/x/x/.
Poor in Spirit
Because you understood your lack,
Your deficit of soul,
You held aloft your empty sack
To Heaven’s welfare dole.
Though others said, “I have no need,
I’m rich forevermore.”
–(Not knowing that their state, indeed
Was wretched, blind, and poor)–
You looked within your heart, perceived
And Heaven’s Kingdom you received
To end your poverty.