A comment by a person who has practiced yoga for some years, suggesting that the world looks so different when you stand on your head, reminded me of days gone by when we hung upside down from swing sets and watched the world go by. People walking past seemed to glide by held in place by some strange force. Trees grew downward and eating felt strange – drinking was impossible: brain and hands unable to function together. Hanging upside down gives you a very different perspective on the world.
As I’ve sat in a variety of different contexts, with people whose lives are so very different from mine, who live in a very different place, life looks very different. Priorities change for people in different places. Sitting amidst a group of indigenous people and listening to their stories turned my perspective upside down and inside out. Likewise, a group of refugees or people whose sexuality or gender or mental health… that differ from mine, offers a confusing and different perspective on life. I remember having a conversation with a person who experienced schizophrenia and they spoke about how different the world was from their position. His mind functioned differently, and he saw the same world in different, somewhat strange and complex ways. A simple ball point pen with a button that loaded the tip, became a laser beam that threatened him. His mind was able to ‘hyperlink’ from word and concept skipping through a conversation that began at one point and rapidly jumped through history and world events by a series of oddly connecting words. ‘I saw a cartoon this morning – Donald Duck. He is the president of USA – Trump. I won 500 last night at home trumping my brother. He isn’t heavy to carry but this load of books is heavy. The library has a painter today. Michelangelo painted the Church roof…’ S0 a typical conversation went and I found it hard to follow. His world looked and felt so different.
It seems to me that I view the world a little differently from many people and find myself getting angry at public figures who appear on the evening news proclaiming their version of truth. Rhetoric that ‘blesses’ the rich, powerful and famous and paves the way for their well-being over and against the poor and lowly really irks me. The language of exclusion and rejection based on race, gender, sexual orientation, age, status… makes me angry and very sad. The language of violence that often leads to violent action engenders feelings of deep despair and concern because this is the way of our world. When I look into myself and identify feelings of fear, a need to secure everything ‘I own’ or sure up life and protect it from the invisible ‘enemy,’ I shake my head and ask what is happening. As I listen to the privileged and entitled speak so freely about wealth and affluence I feel anxious and dismayed because I know the other side of society and how hard it is for people to make ends meet, no matter how hard they work or try.
Sometimes I feel like I am hanging upside down and the world seems to be functioning against all sanity and rational, compassionate purpose. The world is spinning the wrong way – or maybe it is me? But then, why so much anxiety and sadness? Scott Peck, the psychiatrist and author (‘The Road Less Travelled’ and other well-known books) suggests that there is a healthiness in some forms of depression, that we need to hear and listen to. There are people who feel the deep pain and crisis of the world, who live with compassion and are sensitive souls – they feel anxiety and stress at the profound implications of what is happening around them. They are like the canaries in the coal mine, warning of danger – if only we will listen.
So, as I wonder about myself and the world, as I metaphorically hang upside down wondering what is going on and what is real and true and what is not, I listen to words that rattle down through the ages of time and space and challenge me. They are words from Jesus in Matthew’s story – Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes. These 8 (or 9, depending on how you number them) statements are about blessing. The blessed, says Jesus, are those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, the humble, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. The next is either an extension of number 8 or a ninth –‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’
These words feel like I am really hanging upside down and inside out looking at a very different world. Blessed are those who are poor in spirit (in Luke it is the poor!) and humble and merciful and peacemakers… These people aren’t the ones who are noted and we don’t typically dream of growing up to be like them. There was a bloke in Parramatta years ago. He was homeless and lived in the men’s hostel. He was gentle and humble, lived with schizophrenia and tried to help anyone he could – especially others who were ‘outcasts’ and on the streets. I don’t remember anyone trying to emulate him nor did he ever receive rewards or recognition, and no-one thought him blessed or honoured. But…
But I remember him and his name all these years later – and I can’t remember politicians (perhaps 1?) or any of the business leaders and key figures of the City, but I know Jim Carnegie’s name and hold something of his memory. As I think, I recognise that there are many people who have transcended their station in life, the struggle of their lowly, insignificant place and spoken into a world that disdains them. They have fought for truth and freedom, life and hope for themselves, family or minority groups threatened and rejected. They have fought, not with power and might, weapons and so on, but with a passion and love that is vulnerable and humble. Greta Thunberg has no power, no might, nor has Malala Yousafzai, another young woman (girl really) who stood strong against a world that rejected her and she spoke out for justice, experienced rejection and violence but her passion for justice, her ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ was real. Greta is a teenager who can see the future and is afraid of what her parent’s generation and older are allowing to happen to the world – she speaks from the purity of heart and sees beyond what is, disbelieving the accepted rhetoric of ignorant leaders.
Jesus set out a set of values that indicated where true honour is found and where true blessing is realised. He wasn’t so much pointing to what people should do (although that is implied) but to where blessing existed in the real lives of people. Jesus honoured those the world despised or rejected or looked upon with suspicion or tried to silence and invited all of us into this upside down, wonderfully rich place of life together. It is found in a community of people who believe in a different way and are willing to take the first tentative steps together. In this place, God is very, very close; in this way of love!