Examining the Beatitudes Part 1:
At Home in the Breath
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks are blessed. Really? Aye, it's
a real mixed bag out there. We gain some victories but we are still pariahs
in too many places in this world. Still, I assert, we are blessed. I say
that on no less an authority than Jesus.
Jesus has very radical ideas about what blessedness is. Even a quick reading
of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-11 will reveal this radicalness. "Blessing
are those who mourn..." Yeah, right. "Blessed are the meek..." Really?
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all
kinds of evil against you falsely..." Hmmm. That sounds like the way
fundamentalists treat us, but that doesn't make us feel very blessed.
The Beatitudes are radical and challenging. That's why few Christians use
the Beatitudes as a rule of life. It is a lot easier to follow the Ten
Don't be too quick to write off the Beatitudes as pie-in-the-sky ideals that
only the most holy mystics can obtain. Remember that Jesus spoke these words
to rough, poor, politically oppressed people. They lived hand to mouth at
best and had no time for bleeding heart idealism.
Also, Jesus didn't speak these words in English, like duh! Nor did he speak
them in Greek, the original language of the New Testament. He spoke them in
Aramaic, the common language of the people of Middle East at that time. So
we have Jesus' words translated from Aramaic to Greek to English. There are
a number of scholars who have translated the Beatitudes from Aramaic to
English, seeking to bring out the underlying poetry and depth of meaning
found in the Aramaic. Among them is Neil Douglas-Klotz on whose work I base
some of this article.
I am starting a series where I will work with one of the Beatitudes,
bringing out the Aramaic meanings. That's the part based on Douglas-Klotz
work, in particular his book, "Prayers of the Cosmos" and his CD set, "the
Healing Breath" I will also reflect on how the Beatitude related to the life
we LBGT people experience.
The first Beatitude in English is, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for
theirs is the kingdom of God" Mt. 5:3. I will be focusing on the Aramaic
word for poor, for spirit and kingdom. The Aramaic word for poor is
meskenaee. Among its meanings are, "a solid home base" or "resting point."
Also, to hold onto something as if one were poor without it. The Aramaic word
for spirit also means "breath." This also true in Hebrew and Greek. The
Aramaic word for kingdom refers to the power to do, the "I can" of God.
So, one possible meaning of this beatitude is "blessed are those whose breath
is their home, who know their breath is their first and last possession,
they will experience the 'I can' of God."
What this means in real life is that the breath is a pathway to God. This is not
a funky New Age idea, but one found in all wisdom traditions. There are
many meditation practices based on breath awareness. For Christians we
apply breath awareness with the knowledge that God is giving Herself to us
in and as this breath ... this breath ... this breath.
I practice breath awareness by breathing in God's life, God's breath; God's
own self with the in breath. On exhale I release myself into God, release
tension, worry. I simply relax in God.
This is a simple practice that can be done anywhere. If you are getting
bored in a meeting, breathe in God, present in that meeting, present in the
people in that meeting. Breathe out whatever is needed for you and or others
in that moment in that meeting. If you are driving and the
traffic is backed up, breathe in God, present with you right there on the
road. Breathe out mercy and loving-kindness into your frustration.
Jesus is saying God is as close as our own breath, indeed the breath within
the breath. It doesn't matter who you are, gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual,
transgender, God is there with you. Blessed are they who know this.
How do you come to know this? Find those practices that open you to the
divinity of each moment, every moment. One of those practices is breath
awareness. I will write about others in future columns.
Debbie Graham is a native Idahoan who lives with her beloved partner, Teresa, in Boise, Idaho. She writes a monthly spirituality column for Diversity, Idaho's Monthly LBGT news magazine. She is a Lay Eucharistic minister at St. Michael's Episcopal Cathedral in Boise, Idaho. She also leads a Centering Prayer Group and teaches classes on Centering Prayer and the Spiritual Journey.
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