Tuesday, November 01, 2016

We are all beggars

Thoughts on All Saints’ Day:

Jo and I are recently back from four nights spent in Prague.

One of the most striking features of this faded-but-hauntingly-beautiful city is the number and, even more so, posture of its beggars.

They kneel, their faces pressed against the ground, hands stretched out in front of them in an imploring prayer for mercy to passing tourists and pilgrims. To the sheep and the goats. The hands and the feet of Christ.

The beggars around the Charles Bridge remind me that we are all beggars before God.

And if that statement makes you bristle –

‘I am not a beggar; I am a daughter of the King!’

‘Why should I care one iota for a god that treats me like a beggar?!’

then perhaps that reveals most how we view beggars.

Are not beggars also someone’s daughter, someone’s son?

Are not beggars made in God’s image?

Do they not find themselves in circumstances beyond their ability to control?

Yet, do they not still possess agency, the ability to do something, for others as well as themselves?

And are we not dependent on God for our every breath?

The beggars who sleep on the streets are not the only beggars in Prague, not the only beggars on the Charles Bridge at night. There are other beggars, in the guise of tourists, stood in front of a statue of a saint – or before the many prayer-stations that encircle the naves of the many churches. Praying for a miracle, for themselves or for a loved-one in circumstances beyond our ability to control.

For certain, there will be those who rub a statue shiny-bright in hope of good luck. But for many, there is something far deeper than luck being invoked. There is a recognition of the communion of saints – that in Christ heaven and earth, time and eternity, are held together. A reaching out to the great cloud of witnesses who cheer us on; asking that they not be so mesmerised by the glory of the throne of heaven that they neglect to join with the Son in interceding for us before the Father.* No different from asking a friend to pray for you, or a tourist to share their money – their experience of change – except that certain saints (living, and dead) have a track record for standing with others in their time of need.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should confess that I did not give money to any of the beggars. I confess – confession, not self-justification – that I was overwhelmed by them. That I still am.

Their need is real.

And so is mine.

We are all beggars.

And if we can embrace this truth, it might make all the difference in the world.

*This is understood by Orthodox and Catholic Christians, but ranges from problematic to unacceptable for Protestant Christians, for whom the idea that Jesus is not the sole intercessor who might be invoked in heaven compromises the doctrinal belief that Jesus is the sole mediator between God and humanity. I have no difficulty with making such a distinction; but if you do, please [1] try to understand the significant practices of other traditions, and resist the temptation we all experience to dismiss what we don’t appreciate, and [2] try to identify the practices in your own tradition that reveal your need for something beyond yourself.

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