There is an old Italian expression that translates, roughly, as “When you have got your health, you have all you need.” We all solemnly nod our heads in agreement at this statement, because there is so much truth in it. However, even the worthwhile goal of good health can become a false idol for us. Because when we are feeling like a “million bucks”, we can start thinking that we have everything under control, forgetting that life is fragile and that we are dependent upon God for every breath that we take and for every beat of our hearts.
The same temptation can also be there if we happen to be physically attractive, or very intelligent, or very wealthy. We can start thinking that we have outgrown our need for God in our lives.
One of the ways that life takes care of this hubris is a phenomenon called aging. As we get up in years (I am now 72), we begin to encounter a series of personal losses. Not only do we inevitably have to deal with the death of our parents and many friends and loved ones, but we also are forced to deal with the waning of our own bodies and talents. We look in the mirror and we are forced to face that wrinkled visage staring back at us. We may try to exercise as we always did, but now feel aches and pains and strains that are new to us. Perhaps our sexual vigor is not what it used to be. Our mental faculties begin to slip, especially our memories.
If we can handle this aging process gracefully, it is not seen as a tragedy but as a part of the life cycle. Whether or not we age well, we certainly are brought face to face with our earthly mortality. The reality is staring us straight in the face: we ask, “If I am not my body, and not my mind, and not my relationships, and not my bank account, then who am I?”
People who have not been blessed with great health or wealth or talent often have a “leg up” on us when it comes to these realizations. They have never been deluded into thinking that they have it “all together.” In this sense, they have had their own “blessing.” It is precisely because the broken people of the world, the “poor” of the world, that our teacher Jesus spent so much time with them. Frequently, we see Jesus reaching out to the deaf, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the prostitutes and the other rejects of his society. The common explanation for this is that these individuals were hurting so much and needed God so much. Is it possible that Jesus loved to spend his time with them, rather, because they were so open to being taught and healed?
You see, all of us are equally in need of healing. However, when we are working for a Rolls Royce or a multi-million dollar home, or when we are sitting on top of the world, it is easier to delude ourselves that happiness will soon be ours. The poor in spirit, the broken of the world, are, on the other hand, blessed because they have no one and no thing to turn to except God.
All of this is not to imply that there is something good about destitution, disease, or abject poverty. In themselves, these are conditions that any enlightened individual would seek to eliminate from the world. It is just that God has a way of allowing the phoenix to arise from any pile of ashes and of making something good come out of our tragedies.
The soldier in the foxhole, the 40 year old person on his or her back in the hospital after suffering a heart attack, the paraplegic, the disabled, the down and out, the old folks, all know deep in their hearts how fragile life is. They know, they really know, that we are all creatures totally dependent at all times on a power greater than ourselves.
Next posting: “Religious” Growth
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