Happy Are the Poor in Spirit…I Don’t Think So!

I heard an interview-sermon at church a week ago and it triggered a reaction that I have had off and on for quite a long time. The text was the beatitudes Matthew 5: 3-10 which used a newer translation that replaced the word “blessed” with “happy”. The presentation was great, but that one glitch brought back a long conversation in my head. For me, the Gospel is supposed to be leading people to a deeper understanding and connection with God. And when translators “lighten it up” with “common language” it does not do the job. Happy comes from a 14th century word meaning lucky or fortunate. It is related to the word “happenstance” which is a combination of happen and circumstance. We are happy when things go our way, when the circumstances are pleasant and rewarding. Happy is related to our outside world. Blessed is a state of being when one is centered, or I would say, living in relationship with God. Yes, if you look back in the Greek usage it will say fortunate and even happy and the Greek word did refer to the elite, the rich, as blessed. But Jesus used it in a totally different way. Jesus is a transformational thinker and gives us a message that challenges our simplistic or egoistic thinking. It is not the elite who are blessed, it is the poor; it is the hungry and thirsty and those who are in mourning who are blessed. Why is that? Because they are connected to the world in a deeper, more loving way. They have a source of power that does not come from the world around them, rather it comes from the world within them. To bless someone is to empower them. When you bless someone, they are more than happy; they experience a deep sense of joy in being that gives direction to their lives.

As I moved further into my evolutionary Christian journey I thought I was losing my faith, but I was only losing my connection to the God I thought I knew, and was discovering a God who was much different and more connected to my everyday reality. Then I wondered if I could hold on to Jesus because he was integral to my connection with God before God took a different shape and purpose. (The 20 books written in the last 15 years that I have on the theme, “Who is Jesus”, suggest that I am not the only one with this problem. I have reached an accommodation with Jesus that allows for a personal relationship.) Perhaps I shouldn’t say purpose because I still see God’s purpose as the salvation of humanity, but not in the traditional sense of rewarding us with an afterlife (that is for a future blog). I continue to be surprised at how scripture remains a source of truth that brings me into the presence of God. Scripture continues to lead me to a holy awareness and/or an awareness of the holy.

I think the current fascination with “happiness” illustrates our desire to find our roots and our connection to the divine. Except we have now made it a college course thanks to Martin Seligman and his early book, Authentic Happiness. It has morphed into a new field of study called “positive psychology”. I have not read his follow-up book called Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well Being, so am unaware of his current thinking. Joshua Becker in his article, “10 Positive Psychology Studies to Change Your View of Happiness”, quotes from Dr. William Copton’s, introduction to positive psychology, “… positive psychology is seeking to make normal life more fulfilling using the scientific method, hypnosis, research and analysis to understand the positive and emotionally fulfilling aspects of human behaviour. I am reminded that happiness is rarely found in material possessions or worldly pursuits.”

I think we will continue to write volumes about happiness, trying to address our need for meaning and purpose. But for me it is much simpler if one differentiates between happiness and blessedness, and we stop trying to make happiness the primary goal of life.

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