"Blessed are the poor," we read in the Gospel of Luke's Beatitudes. "Blessed are the poor in spirit," we read in the Gospel of Matthew's Beatitudes.
All the gospels demonstrate Jesus' care for the poor, and Luke's account of the good news is especially focused on Jesus' ministry to the economically poor. So when we read "Blessed are the poor" in Luke's account of the Beatitudes, it is reasonable to think of the economically poor.
When we read "Blessed are the poor in spirit" in Matthew's account of the Beatitudes, we're probably not thinking of the economically poor at all. What does it mean to you to be poor in spirit? I think of people struggling with despair, with depression, with weariness, with wariness. Or people who don't have faith, people whose spirits are hollow or thin by lack of faith.
The Greek phrase "blessed are the poor" is the same in Matthew and in Luke. Matthew simply has the extra "in spirit." Both gospel accounts use the same word for "poor" ptōchoi.
Jesus didn't preach the Sermon on the Mount in Greek, he spoke in Aramaic, and the stories told about him were told to the writer of Matthew's acount of the good news in Aramaic, or in Hebrew. And we can look at Hebrew to find out more about this concept of "poor in spirit" because in the Old Testament, the word ‘a ni is used in the Psalms and Isaiah.  Sometimes the context is poverty, lacking property, for example. Other times the word is used to describe someone’s need for God.
So if we stitch together ways that Hebrew has been translated into Greek, Greek into English, and Hebrew into English, we could read the Beatitudes in Matthew as Jesus saying “blessed are those who know their need for God.” Poor in spirit, as in, empty, ready, waiting to be filled up.
Usually we think of emptiness as a negative thing, an empty stomach, an empty bank account, empty calories, empty promises. Yet emptiness can be a blessing.
When our stomachs are empty, we are ready to be filled with a nourishing meal, and we can gather around a table with people we love and share our lives.
When our Sunday afternoon schedules are empty we can celebrate the beauty of autumn leaves or catch up on sleep or read a book.
Do you seek peace and calm in your life through emptiness or fullness? Do you sit in prayer or meditation, creating empty time, quiet, still, and renew your spirit in emptiness?
Do you turn up your favorite music or go for a jog or cook a fabulous meal or build something – do you renew your spirit in fullness?
When I play with our bell choir, or sing in our choir, my mind is so full of the music that I have no room left for worries or frets, I have to be completely present in this place, this moment, and my spirit is renewed in fullness. When I’m lying in shavasana at the end of yoga practice in total silence, total stillness, my spirit is renewed in emptiness.
The Beatitudes flow between blessing emptiness and blessing fullness. Those who are full of mercy will be shown mercy. Those who are emptied out by their tears will be filled with laughter. Those who are full of peacemaking are God’s beloved. The poor in spirit will be filled by God.
There’s a lot of stress in our lives these days, struggles in our families, jobs, health, finances…oh and there’s an election coming up! I pray that your faith and your spiritual practices are renewing your spirit, again and again.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me.
Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how
to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how
I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything
heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll lean
to live freely and lightly. (THE MESSAGE)
Let us settle into our spirits, into peace, through poetry and music, through breath and silence. Our breathing is a constant reminder of the gifts of both emptiness and fullness. Feel free to close your eyes as I read and the orchestra plays, and enjoy how God has designed your body and breath to celebrate emptiness and fullness.
In the Breath, Another Breathing
Let it be
that on this day
we will expect
no more of ourselves
than to keep
with the bewildered
of lungs that will not
give up the ghost.
Let it be
we will expect
the beating of
its repeating rhythm
that will not
cease to sound.
Let it be
enough to hear
what may yet
come to echo:
as if in the breath,
as if in the heartbeat,
Let it be
we will not
try to fathom
to meet us
in the stillness
but simply open
to the approach
of a mystery
we hardly dared
from Circle of Grace