I have been called many names: idiot, prude, self-righteous, liar, ugly, fugly, fag, fat, judgmental, partial, unintelligible, untalented, incapable, stuffy, boring, not-good-enough, and “interesting”, among others. It didn’t matter whether it was to my face on the school bus by the kid-who-was-held-back-a-year or in whispered conversations when I’m out of the room by fellow adults. I have been called these names by strangers and by people whom I love and respect. I’ve had deeply-held beliefs laughed off, laughed about and, worse, mostly ignored. Always deferential, I would laugh about it, too, or wear those insults like a tattered garment, never being quite true to myself. At times, almost a fool.
I gave the power of shame to whomever would yield it. A teacher, a family member, a friend or a complete stranger, I would blush equally when they pointed something out. It didn’t matter what it was, I’d smooth rough edges by apologizing, seldom recognizing that I could be right. Hell, I’d apologize, even if I was right.
A few years ago, I’d given several “friends” this power of shame and they used it for evil. They treated me as if I should be ashamed of the good. It didn’t matter if it was my little gifts or that I made an effort not to sleep around — all of these were fair game for jest-packaged ridicule. Even when I started openly writing about my on-going Dark Night (or existential crisis, if you’d like), that, too, was a topic of bitchy conversation, where they dug their blooded, haggard claws deeper in my back. In front and behind, some of the worst things that I have ever been called came from this time, along with some of the worst advice I’d ever been given.
I think we’re ashamed of who we are, both the good and the bad. We’re ashamed of all those names, whatever they may be: fat, ugly and poor; poor in spirit; the fags and mourners; the meek; untalented and uncoordinated; the hungry and the failures; those who thirst with all their being for righteousness; those who give wanton mercy; the pure in heart; the not-good-enough; the peacemakers and persecuted. These are the names that cause us to look towards the earth and cover our faces with a sigh. But, Jesus took the insulted of his day and called them blessed.
Yes, let us not forget that the Beatitudes do not present a picture of the clean-cut job-creators or Jesus’ little hotties. In fact, the Beatitudes describe the peripheral losers and says, you’re blessed in your loserhood. You’re blessed in your unrequited search for the Beloved hiding among the moonlit streets of our city. You’re blessed in your hunger and your thirst. You’re blessed when you do not grasp. You’re blessed when you lose. Wherever the world (and, sadly, far too often the Church) says, “Shame!” — Jesus whispers, “Blessed”. For, to be blessed is to suffer; to-suffer-in-love is what it means to be blessed. We’re ashamed of ourselves and we’re ashamed of our Beatitudes.
I’ve never quite understood why we’re ashamed of our Beatitudes, because they describe the human experience. They describe it better and more succinctly than any novel ever written. The Beatitudes tell us what it means to be human.
Everyone knows what it is to be a despised loser, a failure, and never wildly successful at much of anything. Most of us never quite overcome our sins. Most of us struggle and fail miserably on a daily basis. If we’re truly honest and examine our lives, most of us have dismal testimonies where we move in stubborn, incremental millimeter nudges. Most of us are never quite a saint, but never really a sinner, either — and, mostly, just a fool.
No, we’re not the overcomers. We’ve little to be proud of. We’re not Jesus’ little Hotties. We’re the B squad. Third Chair. The audience. The poor man in the damp alleyway outside the hall. We’ve little to show for our faith. The world, and sometimes even the Church, wants you to be ashamed of this. They want us to be ashamed of the good and of all those little names. They want us to be ashamed of our lack.
For the last ten years, I’ve followed Jesus the best I can. Reading the Mystics like Julian and Teresa in the beginning, it seemed the Christian life promised to me was a glorious one. It would be like moving from “glory to glory”, the Pentecostal preachers would say; it would be a steady upwardly-mobile procession towards the Divine. Yet, this is not how it has turned out . . . And, I’m ashamed of it . . . deeply, deeply ashamed . . .
Speak to me not of the distant sun, the running champion in the firmament, nor the inheritance of the saints dolorous from before history. Speak to me of the night when silence sings sweetly in the trees, as a ringing, voiceless yelp tightens from the heart constantly. Speak to me of the now. Tell me of the earth.
Speak to me of the dirt.