Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blessed are they . . . ?

The beatitudes ("blessed are the meek, for they shall  inherit the earth" etc) has long confounded me, but not for the usual theological reasons.  For me, the problem is that dang passive voice.  Where is that blessing coming from?  Okay, okay, I know the blessing comes from God.  But is the meekness the blessing, or is it the inheritance?

Here's a less theologically-loaded version of the question.  My parents used to haul me and my sisters off to operas, where we had to sit still for 3-4 hours (with a small intermission).  The "sit still" was very, very important to my parents.  You could even say, "Blessed are they who sit still through the opera, for they shall have their reward."  Now, what was that blessing?  When I was young, it was really the blessing of not getting whacked by my mom, or the blessing of out-sitting my sisters, or even the blessing of getting to have a treat at home later.

But when I got older, something stunning happened.  We were at a performance of Don Giovanni, and I was suddenly entranced.  By the end, when D.G. fell screaming through the floor and went straight to the fiery pits of Hell, I was sitting at the edge of my seat, holding my breath because I was so caught up in what was going on.  All of a sudden, the opera itself had become the reward, and the sitting still was just what I wanted to do.

The scientific studies resulting in the "don't eat the marshmallow" slogans seem to say that delayed gratification really does become its own reward.  We're going to be happier if we save our money for a big goal than if we spend it on whatever's in front of us.  We'll be happier if we are willing to put in hard work, instead of playing or resting, to achieve another long-term goal.  And it looks like it's not just the goal that is the fun part; we learn to get pleasure out of the frugal, hard-working journey, too.

I'm not ever going to know the blessing of meekness, I'm afraid.  (Dang).  My husband calls me  the "Iron Maiden" (from him, a compliment) because I expect my kids to sit still in church and at math talks and at plays.  They eat whatever healthy food I give them.  They do lots of chores, many side-by-side with their parents, and many on their own.  If they want a toy they don't have, they have to earn the money for it themselves.  In many ways, this is a hard, strict life.

But me, I think I'm blessing them.

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