"Blessed are those who mourn...." Results
Just to remind you that I think the sort sort of mourning Jesus is talking about in his second beatitude, is the sort that prophets do. It's grief that leads to action: mourning over the violence, injustice and idolatry of our world. Certainly it includes our sadness and anger in the face of death, just as it did with Jesus when he approached the funeral of his friend Lazarus. But for me it also includes abortion. And that's what I tried to do something about this month.
Up until 40 Days for Life called off our prayer vigil outside Wellington hospital when the Government went to Level 3 in the Covid 19 emergency, I biked down to the hospital on Monday and Friday mornings. I joined a few others in an act of public prayer witness. We had signs saying such things as 'pray for and end to abortion', but we only talked with those who approached us. Mainly we prayed.
Sometimes people would stop to share their story. One hospital worker told me how, many years ago, he had battled the welfare authorities to support someone he loved who was being encouraged to abort. Miraculously (as he saw it) the mother changed her mind. In that case there was a beautiful outcome for him, the mother. and her child. However the experience left him cynical about the guardians of the abortion industry. And so he encouraged me and went on his way.
The negative reactions happened. Perhaps the one that sticks in my mind the most was a well dressed 40-something woman who walked past and then commented back over her shoulder: 'great news about the passing of the legislation last night'. I couldn't help blurting out: 'not so much'!
She was, of course, talking about the Abortion Act that removed unwanted children in the womb from the protection of the Crimes Act. For her, no doubt, this was part of a narrative about the freedom and autonomy of women; for me it was about removing thousands of pre-born NZers from the human family. Unwanted babies in the womb are now health problems for women to choose treatment options for, rather than members of the human family who are (at least to some extent) protected by the law.
Us pray-ers talked a lot about how people holding such different narratives around abortion can talk together sensibly. It drove us back to prayer!
The enactment of the Abortion Bill was a disaster. My role in praying publicly this March seemed to be the sort of prophetic witness Isaiah talked about:
‘Hear and hear, but do not understand;
see and see, but do not perceive.’...
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6.9-10)
Interestingly, Jesus invokes this same prophetic justification for speaking in parables to the crowds (Mark 4.10-12). So I'm not just being 'all Old Testament' about it.
I guess one lesson has been that the beatific life Jesus talks about is not all beer and skittles. Even when it feels as though no one's listening or looking, the blessed ones in Jesus' Kingdom are called to speak and act. The promise is that we will be comforted. May it be so.
Next month... blessed are the meek. I'm not sure it sounds much like me!
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted"
We've just begun Lent, which seems the right time to be thinking about Jesus' second beatitude. I was taught early on that "mourning" (penthountes) means more that sadness over the death of a loved one or losing your job. Like all the beatitudes, its meaning is best located with the Prophets, especially Isaiah (eg Isaiah 61:2). But I like how the late Glen Stassen explains this by pointing to another of Israel's prophets describing a society that doesn't practice the sort of mourning Jesus is on about.
The prophet Amos pronounces God's judgment on those who do not mourn: They oppress the poor and crush the needy and then say, "Bring something to drink!" They sin and then bring sacrifices to the temple, thinking their sacrifices cover their sins, even though they continue to practice injustice. God pronounces "Alas for those who are at ease in Zion....Alas for those who...sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, ...but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!... Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it? ... I will turn your feasts into mourning" (Amos 4:1-5; 5:6, 14; 6:1-7; 8:7-10; 9:5).
(Stassen, Living the Sermon on the Mount).
So this Lent I'm joining the 40 Days for Life prayer team that holds vigil outside Wellington hospital. It'll be the third Lent I've done this, and so I have some idea what to expect. Abortion pits two groups against each other who both think they are on the side of the vulnerable and oppressed. In the middle is a great swath of people who see no cause for mourning - at least not enough to do anything about it. So I'll get yelled at, argued with, and told what a good job I'm doing. But mostly I'll be ignored.
Aside from "mourning" in prayer over the abortions performed at Te Mahoe (Wellington Hospital's abortion clinic), I'm going to keep a notebook of any significant interactions or reactions over then next 6 weeks. I'll let you know what happens, and just how blessed I was to be mourning this Lent. If you want to mourn with me the online signup form is here.