In counting our blessings I've gone back to the beatitudes. I learnt them as a child from a beautiful children's prayer book. The words are associated for me with a picture of bearded men in long robes sitting on a peaceful green hillside listening to a gentle discourse from a golden-haired Jesus. The way I'm learning them now a more appropriate picture would be a violent mountain torrent crashing down a steep gorge. My frail kayak hurtles around huge bluffs, each of them labelled: blessed ... blessed ... blessed.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Or, as The Message puts it, "You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope." So this is a blessing? We are blessed in being dependent, jobless, without resources? We're blessed in being poor in recognition and status? I look for the blessing here and find this: that we're experiencing God's fatherly care. We've had enough money to live on, even without a salary. We've opened in ourselves a small window on the experience of the truly poor of the world.
This encounter with loss--loss of friends, work, income, home, self-worth--is a deep wound. I can't find any sweetness or blessing in it at all. But Jesus said: Blessed are those who mourn, because they shall be comforted.
Will we feel in the future that God was our companion on this road of grief? Right now I can't say. The grieving is now, the comfort still future tense.
And blessed are the meek. Chewing and cogitating on what it means to be meek, I wonder whether this blessing can possibly be ours. It seems that this experience of unemployment may offer us an advanced class in meekness should we choose to enroll in it.
To hunger and thirst for righteousness in this place of unemployment seems to me a call to want God more than his good gifts. We pray daily for a job, not just any job but the right one. We assure ourselves and each other that something will turn up soon, God must intend for us to have a job and even a ministry. On my good days I believe it. On my bad days I reinforce my broken faith with the splint of this beatitude: God first and God last, whether or not he grants our prayers.
The mercy transactions are an easier lesson. We've given and taken mercy over the years, this is familiar ground. Not so purity in heart. No wonder I don't see God very much.
I've never before lived the beatitudes as I'm living them now, or trying to. I still don't know what they mean, but I'm striving to direct my experience of joblessness through these steep, rocky, difficult words.
Jesus never said "Blessed are the unemployed." And if he had, I don't think he would have added "for they shall obtain a job." But he might have promised a radically transformed perspective on what it means to be blessed.