Thursday, March 15, 2012

What Gives Meaning to Life?

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" are the words that begin the Beatitudes, and which the columnist of the "Half Transparent Notes on Life" in the Korean Times finds reason for great joy. They bring consolation to him and a reason for avoiding the unruly enticements of life.

This one verse of the Beatitudes sums up, he says without fear of exaggeration, the meaning of his life. And if he could possibly achieve the goal it describes for us, he would, he says with all the sincerity he can muster, give up his life for it..

The columnist has expressed this same feeling in his other writings. He recalls a novelist appearing on a TV panel show who mentioned that someone had said that "knowing the poor can be happy gives meaning to life."  The novelist went on to say that she couldn't understand how anybody could say that. What is so good about being poor? she asked. The columnist laughed on hearing this, knowing that she had read what he had written.

Her words, he says, are understandable. Who in the world, including himself, would say that poverty is good? Everybody is striving to do away with poverty. However, despite the good intentions of many to achieve equality the poor still greatly outnumber the rich. 

He goes on to tell us the reasons this verse from the Beatitudes is so important in his life. He understands it as giving voice to those who are without power, in a world that is ruled by those who have power--financial, social, political and military power.

In the past, he had favored the thinking and goals of the powerful, but early on gave them up; not only because he was not gifted with the capabilities of the powerful. But realizing that this was not in line with the truth, he decided to side with the powerless, and came to understand that, paradoxically, it is the powerless that have true power--truth is on the side of the powerless

Lao-tzu wrote that "the greatest virtue is to be like water." The columnist sees this as similar to what Jesus expressed in the Beatitudes. When water comes up against some obstacle, it doesn't expend effort in struggle but silently and in time overcomes the temporary hindrance. Water takes the posture of the weak and overcomes the strong.

But no matter how much one tries, the columnist insists, it is impossible to say all that is included in the phrase: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The fascination it holds for him can't be captured by simple paraphrases, he says, and wonders if its profound meaning somehow comes from our knowing its divine source rather than believing it came from human thought.


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