This weekend one million people marched on the streets of London for another People's Vote. Last week, thousands of young people left UK schools and universities to rally for climate action. Cast an eye across the world news, and you'll find any number of political issues and crises that bring people to the streets on a weekly basis. Of course, it has always been thus.
But from the 'Arab Spring' uprisings of 2011 to the inception of Black Lives Matter in 2013, and the 'March for Our Lives' movement that began in response to the terrible shooting in Parkland, Florida – it seems change, and the desire for change is in the air. We live in a world where all is patently not as it should be – and the stirrings of both hope and despair are hard to ignore.
In 2016 a group of us began to explore the beatitudes together – ancient sayings that serve as a preface to Jesus' famous 'Sermon on the Mount'. The NINE BEATS Collective was formed from a tribe of troubadours, poets, musicians, and theologians. Some of our founding group had long and varied history as political agitators and civil rights activists.
Talking about the need for change came easy to us. We were riled up and vociferous about everything from race and gender equity, to capitalism and the proliferation of weapons and war. But as we talked about the beatitudes, a new and less comfortable truth began to emerge: we don't change the world 'out there' without changing the world that's inside us. All the ills that we identify around us are mirrored in our own journeys. If we want the world to be different, if we want change, it has to begin with us.
The beatitudes are an invitation to an inner journey – offered with remarkable precision. These words speak to specific but universal human aches. Am I enough? Do I have enough? Can I rely on anything outside of myself? What do I do with pain? Am I better or worse than others? Do I really have agency? 'Blessed are the poor in spirit' – Jesus said – 'those who mourn, the meek, those who are starved of justice.'
Those things that we avoid, the very things that made Jesus' first hearers consider themselves cursed not blessed – these are the things that we are invited to embrace as we walk in the way of Jesus. It was utterly radical two thousand years ago, and it is utterly radical now, to consider that oppression and lack and loss might turn out to be the tools and teachers of change.
Acknowledging our poverty is the first step in a journey of trust – recognising we are not enough on our own, we need each other. The invitation to peace-making requires that we learn how to make peace with ourselves, and with the image of God in others – especially those who are different from us.
When Jesus calls the merciful blessed, he invites us to give up judging ourselves and those around us. In a culture that prizes happiness, these 'nine beats' challenge us to take time to mourn.
Human beings have always looked for ways to escape, distract, or numb ourselves from the harsh realities of life. But as anyone in recovery knows, running from the pain doesn't help. What if the pursuit of real happiness (or blessing) calls for lament? For the courage to sit in the dirt with ash on our heads, and to name what is broken – so that healing can come.
I believe the beatitudes offer a unique manifesto for life as it should be – a path of recovery from values and a way of looking at the world that aren't working and won't work. These are the hard yards of change – as we learn to walk the way of trust, lament, humility, justice, compassion, right motive, peace-making, surrender, and radical love. Change is coming, and it begins right here – with us.
Today I want to ...
Live with open hands
Mourn what's broken
Serve with self respect
Use my power for good
Look with compassion
Walk in honesty
Reach past difference
Suffer for love
And live fearlessly
Following the way of radical love.
[9beats mantra / NINE BEATS Collective]
Danielle Welch is a founding member of the NINE BEATS Collective, and co-author with Mark Scandrette of The Ninefold Path – experiments in the beatitudes. Find out more at www.9beats.org. Danielle lives in South London and is a community leader at Oasis Waterloo.