January 8, 2016
My dear fellow pilgrims,
I greet you from one of my favorite coffee shops near my work, just after having read a bit of Thomas Dubay’s “Happy Are You Poor.” This is the third time I am reading it, because frankly, I need a lot of help with the tenets expressed in this book. And I have to admit, I felt a little sheepish reading it here; this is a very posh space that attracts hip customers, and I dressed up a little for a meeting at work today, so I felt a tinge of the “imposter-syndrome.” Who am I, a well-dressed White woman, studying for her PhD at NYU to be interested in truly living out Gospel poverty? Ha - you’re reading this book, of course you are, you are intellectually interested in such things that you have no experience with. As I type, I see how these thoughts are not from God, I see how they are accusatory and promoting shame and guilt that are not conducive to repentance and a fuller embrace of the identity God wants to instill in me. I see how this type of response does not inspire me to change my life according to the desire for God, but rather, out of the desire to diminish the negativity of guilt. This response is no better (ok, maybe slightly better) than a complete resistance to discussion about what it means to live out the universal call to Gospel poverty.
The main point of Dubay’s book is, thankfully, not to shame everyone who’s not a devout Franciscan, but rather, that the call to Gospel poverty is an indispensable tenet that must be lived by all Christians, and according to the particular character that God calls for each of His pilgrims. This simultaneous universality and particularity is what makes the call to Gospel poverty, and the Christian life in general, so complicated to discuss and wrought with tension. Dubay emphatically claims in his book that poverty is not a value with an end unto itself, it is a value because of what it makes possible, which is union with God in thislifetime (i.e. SAINTHOOD). He claims that true gospel poverty requires both humility and detachment, for humility is required to admit that “our thoughts are not His thoughts, our ways are not His ways,” and detachment, to maintain a firm disposition of heart not toward the finitude of this world, but the “infinitude of the bosom of the Trinity.” We are all pilgrims, this world is not our home, and it is harder, if not impossible, to accept that in the throes of ungodly attachments.
Again, the attitude I expressed earlier does not help me, and it doesn’t help you either if you have ever thought that way. While Dubay emphasizes the indispensable commitment to a certain degree of material poverty, he also emphasizes the commitment to other forms of interior poverty, which can be lived out by not being attached to the way others view you. Last night, I felt the sting of my lack in this area when I was talking to Aidan about my rumination over a brash email from one of my professors. My over-thinking and hurt feelings (they were far too hurt) over this silly little email were clues to me that my identity is far too attached to what my superiors think about me (more like, what I think they think about me).
The simultaneous attitude of detachment and humility relates to Lauren’s Tuesday reflection, about the difference between complacency and contentment. It is such a great question, and must be an object of constant meditation especially for materially privileged folks who do not have to worry as much about security in the essentials of life, “for there is no security in finite things even when we have an abundance of them (Luke 12:15)” (Dubay, 55). Even now, it’s difficult for me to type these words without feeling a tinge of guilt because I know that I have a long way to go in fully embracing this underlying truth of my existence, so I will end with a prayer.
Good, humble Jesus,
You are all our good, all our hope;
May our lives clearly portray this truth.
Teach us how to live,
how to be thankful for the blessings you give us,
and fully offer them back to your greater glory.
Soften our hearts towards the plight of those striving for food, water, shelter, love,
May we see You in them and respond in kind,
with full understanding that only You can ultimately save,
but we are called to solidarity in this universal human journey,
following behind your Cross,
towards reunification with Your Father.