You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
--"Wild Geese," Mary Oliver
For a long time while I was growing up, I thought of the Beatitudes as a kind of holy checklist. I thought I would only really be a good Christian, would only really be following Christ, if I could manage to be poor in spirit and meek and thirst for righteousness and a peacekeeper, etc. Consequently, I would despair, overwhelmed by how much farther I still had to go. It's amazing how much those early perceptions (and misperceptions) linger, but I've slowly felt myself let go of that early scrupulosity as I've grown more into my faith. With the Beatitudes, Jesus is preaching the impossible. You simply cannot take on all of the different virtues and burdens that they describe. It's too much for one person. Instead, he's trying to guide us into a way of thinking, a way of being in the world, that is authentically Christian. We are a Church for a reason, founded in and as community. One may not be able to bear all that the Beatitudes ask, but a community might. As Cornell Westobserved, "justice is what love looks like in public." In the Beatitudes, Jesus is teaching us what faith looks like in public. Thus those that mourn are comforted, the persecuted are embraced, and we are all invited more and more fully into the mercy of God. The Beatitudes aren't a checklist, they're a whole host of relationships slowly blossoming as we turn towards the Son.