I saw an interview the other day with Peter Kreeft. He is a philosophy professor at Boston College and has some great things to say. One part that stood out was that moral relativism has few edges and less of a full experience on how to live life and decide what is right and round. He stated that without defined edges on where things that matter begin and end then nothing matters.
But I thought from there about an even more expanded view of what I call spiritual relativism. The idea that whatever works for your does not have to work for me. But what works for me in giving me a sense of meaning on who I am in my relationships will be defined by the power of my will and guided with my feelings at the moment. There was a touch of that in the book of Judges where chaos was the norm and “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”. In that state, people are full of themselves…or other things.
But if someone were to start over, being humble, then what does it look like? The ex-carpenter said something about that once on a hill to a crowd who were seeking something real. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3)”
Poor in spirit is an odd wording but we have a clue on where the proper state is for God to do work in us and that is a state of humility or awe of the divine. I recall that scene in Rudy where the hero is torn on whether to go forward in his dream for Notre Dame and asked for a priest’s counsel. He answered awkwardly, “My 35 years of theological studies have taught me two incontrovertible facts: there is a God and I am not Him.” The look of blankness in Rudy Rudiger is comical but when I think about how much I want to adorne myself with pretentions of my own self importance, assumptions of what life is about and such I really need to apply such simple humility too. Another way to think of a good spiritual poverty is in the second verse of the Creation Story “And the earth was formless and void…and then God said…”.
Which brings me back to the edges of Peter Kreeft. Who sets the edges that define what is meaningful, right and wrong? If there is a King of the universe then it is Him. If he exists, and is personally invested into human beings, then he has a kingdom. And that kingdom would need to be based in a realm beyond our reach or we could easily delude ourselves into watering down moral absolutes in such practical things as the value of the human person based on the whim of the day. Based in a realm beyond our reach, such a kingdom would be not only a standard of “right when we are right, but right when we are wrong” (GK Chesterton).
Yes, we enjoy being self-satisfied on what works for us and how we choose it. This is an extension of our individuality. To be poor in that which is distracting is not to say that you have to give up all individuality. To be poor in spirit is to be in a position where your healthy level of individuality is not in resistance to the Creator. Where one is willing to be formed more in conscience morally and awareness of the divine is where true light comes in.
But to be filled with grace is where we stop being empty spiritually. We deceive ourselves when we are filled with our own self-importance that is not based in communion with God and the people placed in our paths. Such an attitude is the foundation of sin. But in acknowledging our emptiness we have the other aspect of good poverty, “ If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
But what is it like to stay in a continual place of surrender in what Jesus calls poor in spirit? Think about the teenage girl of Nazareth being told that she would give birth to the Son of God. She is hailed as having been filled in the past tense as full of grace. How she responds accordingly is in saying “Let it be done to me according to your word”.