Suzy is an ordained Interspiritual Priest with the UAIC-Not Your Grandma's Church! She holds an M.Div. from Claremont School of Theology.
A Spiritual Warrior is Strong
In the previous article, I talked about becoming Spiritual Warriors and what it meant to be one. I surmised that to be a Spiritual Warrior is to find the strength to know who we are, what we stand for, where we are called, and how we are going to get there. It is to be strong enough to get knocked down and get up again. It is the strength to recognize that each of us has the power to endure the suffering of this world and to know that even though we might be defeated, resurrection is a reality. After our old life is destroyed, there is new life. But what does the new life of a Spiritual Warrior look like?
A Spiritual Warrior Walks in Peace
The word “Warrior” brings a vision of strength and sometimes of violence. In reality, a true Spiritual Warrior walks in peace, with great courage. You’ll recall that Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi were Spiritual Warriors. These courageous, peaceful men became famous because of their willingness to live – and die – for their convictions. Women, too, have been willing to do what is necessary to fight for what is right. Viola Gregg Liuzzo was a young mother from Detroit, Michigan who drove to Selma, Alabama to help out with the Selma-Montgomery March for Civil Rights in 1965. She was driving marchers between Selma and Montgomery when she was killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in a passing vehicle. Malala Yousafzai was only 15 when she was shot in the head for standing up for her right – and the right of other girls in Pakistan – to receive an education. Malala survived and continued speaking out on behalf of education for girls. In 2014 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and became the youngest Nobel Laureate. Malala graduated from Oxford in 2020. She continues to work diligently on behalf of the 130 million girls who are unable to attend school. Of course, Mother Theresa is another woman who lived her life working for the good, giving up the riches of her youth to work with the extremely poor. All of these individuals and many, many others are Spiritual Warriors.
Spiritual Warriors are not always people who become famous for being so. Alongside all of those who have been outspoken leaders and those who have been injured, arrested, or killed for doing what is right are thousands, even millions, who are doing the same work. Most Spiritual Warriors are not well known. Yet their Light shines for others just as brightly. So, what is it that makes them so?
I chose to focus on the list of blessings that we call the “Beatitudes” from the Sermon on the Mount because I feel that it lays out a plan for becoming a Spiritual Warrior. The story of the Sermon on the Mount is recounted by both Matthew and Luke. I will be using Matthew’s version for this discussion because the way it is delineated makes it easier to break it down to look at the parts. I will also make some comparisons between what the Matthew version says and what the Luke version says, because there are differences. It is important to note that Matthew was likely written before Luke, and that it is believed that both referred to the mysterious text known as “Q.” Just as Paul and those of his school wrote to very specific churches or individuals, every one of the gospel writers had an intended audience for their writings. As such, their decisions about how to present the information would be geared for that audience. This does not take anything away from the idea that these writers were inspired.
The Poor in Spirit
The first of Jesus’ points in the sermon he gave from the top of the mountain as recounted in Matthew 5:3 is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Luke’s version drops off the “in spirit” and directly speaks to the audience, saying, “blessed are you poor.” Of course, this reflects Luke’s intended readers and establishes an agenda of lifting up the poor as being more spiritually blessed than the rich. I won’t be going into this any further at this time other than to say that I believe that Luke’s version has been used as a political tool to support the idea that the poor should be thankful that they are poor. I could certainly exegete this much further, but it would not serve the purpose of this series.
Who are the “poor in spirit?” What does it really mean? I believe that this could be about any of us. Those who are downtrodden and don’t know how they are going to make it to tomorrow are spiritually poor, because they have no hope for a better life. This includes the literal poor, who are unable to work and to earn, those who are homeless, and those who are barely scraping by. It also includes people who find themselves questioning why they are here, in this life, because they are struggling with issues that overwhelm them. It is those who are lonely, those who are in bad living situations, and those who are chronically ill. It’s also those who, though seemingly blessed in this life, feel that there must be more to it, that there must be some purpose for living.
Who are the “poor in spirit?”
What does it really mean? I believe that this could be about any of us.
The Kingdom of Heaven
It's easy to wonder how these people are blessed, when life can seem so dark for them. The second half of the statement answers the question. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The traditional interpretation of this is that because they are miserable here in this life, they will be rewarded after death. However, I don’t think this is what Jesus meant at all. In fact, I don’t believe that when Jesus referred to “heaven,” he was talking about an afterlife. I’m not saying I don’t think there’s a life after death. However, if we think that this is all that Jesus was teaching about, we have missed the mark.
Jesus was telling people that “heaven;” that is, our best life, is available to us here, and now. It is available to us when we open ourselves up to the voice of All That Is; when we listen to that voice and connect with the Divine. When we make that connection, we begin to put on the “spiritual armor” that will protect us as we re-enter the world with a new attitude—a new life. We know when we have heard the voice by the spark of curiosity, the sense of hope, and the feeling of belonging, a difference that we notice when we realize we really are not alone. John Wesley described this as his heart being “strangely warmed.” Others have described it as a kind of confusion about their choices in life as they begin to question their behaviors and choices up until now. Sometimes there is a different kind of loneliness, because as we put on the new “armor,” we can’t always talk about it with those we are closest to.
A New Light on Life
When we begin to truly walk a spiritual path, we begin to feel differently about the conditions of our lives. We no longer complain quite as much about the things we cannot change, and we begin to find gratefulness for the gifts we do have in our lives. We have been unable to see them or to acknowledge them, because our eyes have been scaled over with fear, anger, regret, despair, and self-pity. Once we make contact with the divinity inside of us, our eyes will turn to that which is outside of us, and we begin to see new possibilities. There is a new kind of Light that we’ve never seen before, shining on new options not only for ourselves, but for ways that we can help others become aware of the Light.
As we progress in the new relationship with All That Is, or God, or whatever we call this connection we have discovered, we start to see more of the good things in our lives. When we do this, we are better able to notice the opportunities for growth that we hadn’t seen before. This is how the “poor in spirit” are blessed. Having been “poor,” they have a better opportunity to recognize a better way. Once they recognize that a better way is possible, they become seekers, and in the seeking, they find their portion in the Divine. This is the beginning of our Spiritual Warriorship.
Life Will Always Be Hard
It’s important to realize that as we step into a new spiritual life, we will not suddenly stop having some of the issues that have been holding us back for so long. We are physical beings in a physical world in which there will always be forces working against us. Life will not stop providing the stumbling blocks, the illnesses, the pain, the loneliness, the constant struggle to pay the bills, or the conflict with others. What changes is us, and with our change, we might change our circumstances. In spite of some so-called “spiritual teachings” over the years, having an illness, being poor, any of the problems in our lives are not the result of being “spiritually poor,” or of not being righteous, faithful, religious, or spiritual enough. They are simply part of the human circumstance. By becoming a Spiritual Warrior, we become more able to navigate the world and these challenges.
We will continue to face challenges. This is why it is important to continue to learn, to practice our spirituality or, if we don’t think in spiritual terms, to take time to rest and rejuvenate. We will continue to be “poor in spirit” until the time comes that we reach enlightenment. The reality is that we do not reach this in our lifetime, or if we do, we are not aware of it. If we become aware of it, ego has returned and we have lost it. I believe that full enlightenment is, for most of us, something that occurs when we are ready to leave the physical world for good.
A Continuous Process
As long as we walk upon the earth, clothing ourselves in the Light is a continuous process. In order to continue, we must stop and take time in the heaven that is “at hand.” Meditation, prayer, silence, discussion with others of like mind, time out in nature, music we love, art that inspires us, and even close relationship with those whom we love are thresholds for stepping out of the problems of the physical world and into heaven. It is there that we gain the power to remain clothed in the Light, and in the Light, we are strong enough to be Spiritual Warriors.
If we are not “poor in spirit,” we don’t realize what we are missing. To be “poor in spirit” is to recognize that something is missing, and to seek it, thereby receiving the gifts that await us. Along with those gifts will come responsibilities, and the strength to do the work that is needed. Yes, the “poor in spirit” are blessed.
Kerr Cuhulain writes that as a Wiccan Warrior, he has a personal connection with the Divine. In fact, he acknowledges that both Jesus and the Buddha pointed out that Deity is here for all of us. The same is true, then, for Spiritual Warriors on all Paths.
© 2022 Suzy Jacobson Cherry