Out of the Abyss

Today, as it was two millennia ago, the Sermon on the Mount is the closest thing we have to a Jesus manifesto. It’s probably the most recognized of his teachings and also the most misunderstood. We’re looking at each beatitude separately to see what Jesus could possibly have to say to us today. To see what we’ve covered so far, check out: You Say You Want A Revolution .

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:1-12).

We were sitting on the back steps of the church over looking the parking lot. It was a beautiful autumn day. The young man, a San Jose State University student was new to the church and stopped by hoping I’d be free. My upstairs office was insufferably hot (old buildings don’t have air conditioning) and, since it was late in the day, everyone else was gone. Unless a homeless person took the shortcut through our parking lot, we weren’t going to be bothered.

After the initial how-was-your-day-stuff, he got very quiet. We just sat there and then a barely audible I’m gay came out. As I put my arm across his shoulders, an anguished lament poured out of him. The dam burst. It was like those words were holding back a torrent of sadness, grief, shame, judgement, unworthiness, isolation, pain that could no longer be contained. He could no longer keep the pieces of his pretense of being someone other than who he was together. My heart broke for him.

This young man was in mourning, the kind of mourning Jesus refers to this beatitude. Usually when we think of mourning, we envision the grief that comes with death. But the mourning in this passage is much deeper. It’s profound. It encompasses loss, tragedy, grief, sadness, wounding, shame, guilt, whatever horribleness that stalks you in your private space. It’s coming to grips with the rawness of our reality. Sometimes it is of our own making. Sometimes it’s a result of our circumstances – not of our doing – but where we consciously or unconsciously create a tangled web by which to make sense of the awfulness of what we experienced.

At some point, most of us find ourselves in the abyss – that seemingly bottomless chasm and great void. The abyss isn’t just for addicts, adulterers, or abused who are ready to stare down their wretched reality. Sometimes it’s not defined or doesn’t seem to have any reason because we’re too afraid to peel back the layers to see what lies underneath the discomfort we feel but can’t name.

When we’re in this state of mourning, we are most open to the comfort God offers. It’s not magical and usually never a one-time-only purge. It’s a process and journey that only takes us as far as we can go before encouraging us to go a bit further and yet further until, one day we realize we are out of the abyss. We may feel like we’re disintegrating in the process, but when we emerge on the ledge of the abyss, we are more whole and stronger, and empowered than we’ve ever been.

God’s comfort is a healing comfort. The young man came to know that being gay isn’t shameful or wrong. When his family sadly rejected him, he found others who became his family. As he came to grips with behaviors that weren’t healthy for him and took back the innocence that was taken from him, he was transformed. He no longer felt unlovable with nothing to bring to this life. Instead of feeling alienated from God and isolated from others, he now had hope that God had a fulfilling future for him because of who he was and Whose he was.

Your mission this week, should you choose to accept it, is to ponder this beatitude for your life: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 

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