First, I have to state right up front that I'm not sure this post will end up being totally coherent. I have decided to work through it as I type, rather than draft and redraft and edit until it is "polished" and perfect (complete, whole, fully developed) - since I want input from everyone on something that just hit me today. In this post, I'm going to try to lay out what hit me initially about poverty - then turn it over to everyone for additional input, clarification and fine tuning before I address the epiphany that followed these thoughts. I really am not sure where it will go, but I am curious and want to see where it leads.
As I was pondering the phrase "poor in spirit" today, it hit me pretty hard that, in our modern society, we so marginalize and disdain poverty that we probably miss much of the meaning embedded in the phrase "poor in spirit" as a **desirable** trait. Therefore, I started thinking about the implications of poverty - what it means not as defined in the dictionary, but rather in practical terms. Iow, what does it mean to **BE** poor?
1) Poverty is the lack of ability to purchase things. It implies an awareness of things desired that are beyond one's ability to have or do - since recognition of poverty is a real part of the effects of poverty. (From the time I was eleven, my parents raised eight children on an elementary school janitor's salary. Technically, we were poor, but we kids didn't realize it until we were in high school. We *were* poor, but we didn't *feel* poor - since we really didn't want things beyond our parents' ability to provide until we reached an age where we started wanting things we really didn't need.) It also means that if there are things that truly are necessary but out of one's price range, one must rely on another person to provide it.
2) Poverty, in and of itself, is only a "bad" thing if it keeps someone from obtaining things that they truly need. For example, not having cable TV (or TV at all) is inconvenient in our time, but it certainly is hard to argue that TV is truly a need - unless emergency notifications are provided via TV and in no other way. As long as basic necessities can be met, poverty is not "evil" by any stretch of the word.
3) Poverty forces one to prioritize - to determine what things are necessary, desirable or luxurious. It forces the luxuries and desires to be placed in their proper perspective - as not essential to life and self-worth. In a very real way, it eliminates non-essential distractions and irrelevancies from life by forcing the poor to do what they need to do rather than what they want to do.
These are only a few things poverty is and does. Now, take these descriptions of poverty and re-focus them on the spiritual. What does that create?
1) Spiritual poverty is the lack of ability to acquire spiritual things. It implies an awareness of things desired that are beyond one's ability to have or do - since recognition of poverty is a real part of the effects of poverty. It also means that if there are spiritual things that truly are necessary but out of one's spiritual price range, one must rely on another person to provide them.
So, in this regard, being "poor in spirit" means recognizing one's inability to "buy, earn, deserve, purchase" spiritual blessings - that, without the intervention of another, rich benefactor, one is "damned" (stopped) in his ability to grow spiritually. It means recognizing and turning to Him who is able to provide the spiritual capital she lacks. Without spiritual poverty, one would never recognize his need for help - so he would never ask for it - so he would rarely receive it - so he would not grow spiritually.
2) Spiritual poverty, in and of itself, is only a "bad" thing if it keeps someone from obtaining spiritual things that they truly need. For example, not having access to spiritual communications to all is inconvenient in our time, but it certainly is hard to argue that universal communication is truly a need. As long as basic personal (including emergency) communications can be received, spiritual poverty is not evil in any stretch of the word.
3) Spiritual poverty forces one to prioritize - to determine what things are spiritually necessary, desirable or luxurious. (what is best, better, good) It forces luxuries and desires to be placed in their proper perspective - as not essential to spiritual life and self-worth. In a very real way, it eliminates non-essential distractions and irrelevancies from ones' spiritual life - by focusing the spiritually poor on what they need to do rather than what they want to do.
In summary, being poor in spirit allows a person to recognize the need for a Redeemer (someone to buy and free them from the chains of their poor and lowly state), supplicate that Redeemer to pay for what they cannot obtain on their own, and prioritize spiritual purchases instead of those things that will not advance spirituality. It allows one to simplify life, recognize distractions and eliminate impediments to spiritual growth.
Being "rich in spirit", otoh, eliminates all those needs that lead to such wonderful blessings and, in a very real sense, limits blessings to what can be accomplished and obtained on one's own in this life and the next. Spiritual richness leads one to believe he needs no help - no "redeemer" - no prioritization, since he believes he can have it all. If we are spiritually wealthy, we are unable to act upon and magnify the Gifts of the Spirit that are given to us (or acquire new ones) - since searching for and acknowledging spiritual gifts that come from God requires admission that we need those gifts. That constitutes at least a small degree of spiritual poverty. Spiritual richness leaves one alone, isolated from the yoke that lightens burdens and provides spiritual rest. People with spiritual wealth "have their reward" - as opposed to the Lord's reward.
Again, I hope that makes sense. My next post will try to explain an epiphany I had about credit as it relates to this interpretation of poverty - usually translated as humility.