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Living the Beatitudes, part 4: Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

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Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. — Matthew 5:6

Religion is not a nagging parent, nor is it a report card keeping track of our achievements and failures and grading our performance. Religion is a refining fire, helping us get rid of everything that is not us, everything that disturbs, dilutes or compromises the person we really want to be, until only our authentic selves remain. — Rabbi Harold Kushner, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough

Too often I think of righteousness as an onerous duty. I go through the motions of prayer begrudgingly; I push myself resentfully through the daily tasks of homesteading and volunteer work, waiting until the time when I can stop and lose myself in a book or a daydream. I can get a certain amount of work done in this way, but my resentment often hurts the people I mean to be helping, or leads to carelessness that undermines my work.

Sometimes I know what it is to hunger and thirst after righteousness. Sometimes this comes as a result of caring about people harmed by unrighteousness and injustice. Through church connections I met migrant farmworkers who had suffered from swallowing and inhaling dirt behind harvesting machines, working sixteen-hour days without access to potable water, being ordered to clean out jammed-but-still-running machinery and losing fingers.  Once they were unable to work they were often evicted from the housing their employers provided. It was one thing to read about such abuses, another to talk and pray and sing with people who had suffered them. I wasn’t thinking about onerous duties then; I was hungering for justice. Among other things, this required me to help them as I could and to learn to grow my own food so I wasn’t paying the people who had mistreated them.

Sometimes the alienation and despair that follow my self-indulgence or my attempts to live in my own strength quicken the hunger for righteousness in me. I learn the hard way, repeatedly, that I can’t make myself happy or safe. I remember, however dimly, the joy and the certainty that have sometimes come to me when I practiced self-discipline, mindful work and attentive prayer. I stop running, I sink into the rhythm of work and the stillness or prayer, I let God catch up to me and hold me up again, and I am filled.

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