I am reading Alice Hoffman’s book, The Dovekeepers. It’s a beautifully written historical novel set in the time of the Roman overthrow of the temple in Jerusalem. It’s a wonderful example of a spiritually inspired work of art that tells a story of cycles and patterns and deeper truths.
The Dovekeepers fits in well with my recent re-reading of the spiritual texts of my youth. I felt a strong desire to remember the beauty and lyricism of the Bible as well as the timeless wisdom in its pages. Yesterday, I had the inspiration to read the Beatitudes again. As I shared recently, I read Ecclesiastes a few days ago, for the almost sarcastic wit and longing that those ancient words convey to me. I found the words of Ecclesiastes comforting. So, I thought reading the Beatitudes would be comforting too.
In fact, reading the Beatitudes was discomforting. It made me question some of my more modern beliefs around the right for everyone to live happy and fulfilling lives. Strangely, in three separate incidents during the day I was given reminders of these words by Seth Godin, Neale Donald Walsch and National Geographic magazine specifically from the text of the Beatitudes. I felt that God was trying to tell me something, or maybe to raise some questions.
In the Beatitudes from Matthew, Jesus tells us:
- the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
- the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
- they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
- the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
- the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
- the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
- they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These words are beautiful and poetic.
It’s the words around them that are even more challenging, especially in Luke where he records Jesus saying things like:
- Woe to you that are rich for you have received your consolation.
- Woe to you that laugh now for you shall mourn and weep.
He goes on to admonish those of us who live in comfort when others suffer. Two thousand years later, most of us still want the same things that the original crowds that heard Jesus speak probably wanted — to be strong, invulnerable, happy, wealthy, and have a life filled with never-ending good things.
Like the Ecclesiastes passage that I quoted a few days ago, Jesus is very much asking how to challenge the way we look at life, with even more radical advice. It’s in the Sermon on the Mount that he shares the Golden Rule and later the Lord’s Prayer:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you . . . as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
He goes on to say:
No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and mammon (money). Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on . . . He tells us to trust that God will take care of us.
The overall messages of Jesus also have a very strong similarity to the humble way of living that Lao Tzu teaches in the Tao Te Ching teaches through s ideas such as:
The softest of all things overrides the hardest of all things.
That without substance enters where there is no space.
Thousands of years after both Lao Tzu and Jesus, I believe that most of us are still caught up in serving the masters of the world wherever we are in the world, and often our life mastery is focused on our mastery of making money.
Yet, as Alice Hoffman teaches us, when we think about all the civilizations that have come and go throughout history, what remains? Economic systems and empires come and go. It’s art and stories, especially sacred stories that remain with us.
Art is one of the most powerful ways that the Spirit speaks to and through us. And those of us who want to be models of spiritual living and artists have to be careful about the master that our art is serving.
All around us there are prompts, urgings, admonitions, media, marketing and culture(s) that are calling us to value the service of money over the service of our spirit. And yet we also need to make a living. I just heard a life coach talk about the sacredness of paying our bills too.
For me all of this leads to more questions for personal contemplation:
- How do you help your soul to stay focused in your artful life to serve the “right” master?
- When is it more important to pay your bills, and when is your art more important?
- When so much in the world pulls you away from your highest truth, what helps you to return to your true values?
- Do you allow yourself to feel the edge of the sometimes narrow road of making your biggest and most long-lasting contribution?
I’ll share some ideas tomorrow about how we might approach these ongoing questions with humility and confidence.