Blessed Are the Poor in He(art)

I woke up last Sunday, and for whatever reason, the phrase “Blessed are the poor in heart” leaped into my mind. I felt poor in heart for so many reasons. I looked up the Beatitudes. It turns out that phrase is not in the Beatitudes. I was mixing up these two:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

It was five days after the election. The person I had voted for lost. Thinking of my students, I cried alone in my living room at 2 am on November 9. I went to school and cried again in front of my students. I listened as they told me their feelings about the new president. Scared. Confused. Sad. Angry. Three of my Muslim students said, “He wants to round us up and send us back.” Their voices from that morning still rattled in my head, and my heart still carried the heavy burden of knowledge that our new president had repeatedly spoken negatively about the people I work with every single day. How he had created a sense of fear of “the other.” And while millions cast their vote for him in order to feel more safe, the result was millions of “others” began to feel very, very unsafe. It was five days after the election, and I was still grieving.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 

I struggled to find an appropriate response that would express my legitimate concerns without alienating people. I had loved ones who strongly disagreed with me, and I did not want to create rifts in relationships. What was I to do? Should I write? Should I post a rant on Facebook? Should I be angry? Should I be quiet? I drafted a couple of blog posts. Then I deleted them. I sent a scathing private message to a friend who’d publicly made assumptions about me, and then I messaged again to apologize. I promised myself to say nothing more about the election publicly. Then I changed my mind and promised myself I would speak, loudly and firmly. I could not decide what to do.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

During the past few weeks, I have been keeping up with news about the upcoming movie A Wrinkle in Time. The book, written by Madeleine L’Engle, is probably my favorite book, and L’Engle is my favorite author. (My daughter is named for her, difficult spelling and all!) Recently the Madeleine L’Engle Facebook page posted a link to an article from a woman who had received a response to a fan letter from Madeleine back in 2001. Here’s a quote from the letter:

Most kids are concerned about the pattern of the universe and their place in it. Do I matter? Does anybody care? Is there a God? Am I loved? In A Wrinkle in Time I was quite consciously writing my own affirmation of a universe which is created by the power of love. There really aren’t any easy answers to the very difficult questions . . but we have to keep asking them, knowing that it’s alright not to have the answers. Trust yourself. We can still find hope and beauty in the world and not give up on the journey.”

Trust yourself. Hope and beauty in the world.

The National Book Awards happened a few days ago, and there poet Toi Derricotte said, “Joy is an act of resistance.”

Can I trust myself to resist with joy? 

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

This morning I woke up and, as usual for Sunday mornings, read my automated email from Brain Pickings. It had excerpts from Toni Morrison’s essay “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room For Fear.”

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”

Though I might argue that there are people in America who are experiencing fear right now, Morrison’s words struck me as important. I cannot ignore my nation’s pain right now, but I also cannot succumb to its malevolence. I must believe in the possibility of hope that L’Engle spoke of. Perhaps this is the time for me to try to create art. The only art I can make is words, and often my words are feeble and poor, but maybe I need to try.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. 

In that same Brain Pickings email, there was also a link to President John F Kennedy’s eulogy for Robert Frost. Here’s a quote:

“Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.

If sometimes our great artist have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.”

I was once again moved by our president’s words of respect for artists. As I read his moving speech, I was reminded of the musical Hamilton, in which Alexander Hamilton talks (well, sings) about “writing his way out” of difficult times. Whenever he faced hardships, he picked up his pen and started to write.

I am not sure if art is political or apolitical, or if it should be one or the other. But I do think that art should be a force of truth and love. Even when it is rejected or frowned upon or ridiculed, art should speak the truth and should inspire love between humans.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Today I do not know that the Beatitudes are really for me. I am a person of privilege in this country. I am a white, educated, middle-class, Christian woman. I personally do not have much to fear under the new president. I think these words are for the people who are not privileged. The oppressed and the forgotten and the brokenhearted. The people who are sick and scared and bewildered right now. The “others.” But I take heart in knowing that Jesus remembered and valued the “others” of society.

And, privileged as I am, the Beatitudes speak to me. They calm my stormy heart. They point me to the work I need to do and the art I need to create. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. Is there poetry inside of me that has the power to heal not just me, but also the meek and the persecuted and the poor in spirit? Is there something I can create that can soothe the wounds created by corruptive power?

It is time for me to try. It is time for me to create. I will pick up my pen and write. I hope you will find me here in this space more often. I cannot promise I will not offend, but I will try not to. My promise is to create art that speaks both truth and love.

I leave you with my first small creation:

The Artist’s Beatitude:

Blessed are the poor in he(art), for they shall resist with joy. 

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