It is hard to imagine the Beatitudes as a feature in the Lifestyle section of a Sunday edition of the New York Times. Yet they are in a sense a life-style choice because they express seminal truths that determine our way of life. They decide how we respond to every event, every unexpected twist and turn. But as happiness is a subtle result rather than a desired goal, so the wisdom of the beatitudes is hidden in paradox, even apparent nonsense.
Like, ‘Happy are those who mourn for they shall be comforted’. To mourn we have to renounce denial. In the face of loss or disappointment our first response is ‘Oh, no’. We mentally look for the pause button, to stop what is happening so that we can rewind. Even when we have been overwhelmed by something painful and have started to deal with it there remains in us a resistance to the force of reality that has struck us. Like a people invaded by a hostile power we have no choice but to surrender. But secretly we resist and deny.
To mourn is to face the hardest part of the truth without trying to alter reality with our imagination. This is also what we do in meditation by letting go of all the amazing scenes and games of fantasy. As a result we become less fantastical and more creatively imaginative. But there is a mourning aspect to meditation for this reason.
A young man learning to meditate told me once that he was finding it very hard going. He was lucky if he could do ten minutes at a time. He couldn’t relate at all to the others in his group who were singing the praises of meditation and describing its benefits. Yet he hadn’t given up and did not intend to. Then he casually added that he wept during most of his meditation sessions. Like others with this ‘gift of tears’, as the Desert monks called it, he did not feel sad or in pain. It was simply an overflow – of what? Perhaps the forgotten past claiming its right to be integrated into the present.
Mourning is not essentially sad. It is the refusal of false consolation. It is the great act of acceptance of what is hardest to accept. As soon as it is accepted it is integrated. It is acknowledged as part of the story that we are. That in itself is immensely comforting.
(Look for this in the Passion story where we see Jesus mourning before he dies while his companions cannot accept what is happening.)