Spiritual poverty finds its highest expression in the Sermon on the Mount, especially verse 3.
(Danish painter Carl Bloch’s “The Sermon on the Mount,” 1890.)

Material poverty is easy enough to understand, especially when it rises to destitution. Simply defined, it’s a life-crushing condition stemming from a lack of resources to meet basic human needs.

In the last post I touched on the ugly and pervasive sort of spiritual poverty in America and Western culture that Mother Theresa lamented. But there is a kind of spiritual poverty, a good and virtuous poverty, that’s an important part of the faith tradition, even though it defies easy comprehension.

Just as the word Trinity is not found or defined in the Bible, the term “spiritual poverty” is absent and never explicitly explained in scripture. But as with the Trinity, the concept of spiritual poverty is nonetheless present. It finds its highest expression in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5: 1-9, where in verse 3 Jesus says, “Blessed (i.e., “happy”) are those who are poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.”

Spiritual poverty is detachment from corruptive things of the world in order to stay attached to God and His/Her will for love, mercy, justice, peace on earth and good will to all. It involves the continual emptying of our of cravings for money and treasures that rust.

This emptiness makes room for God to fill our inner beings with love and gladness. When the cup of our inner being is filled to overflowing, we naturally want to pour out our love in works of mercy and service to others.

Spiritual poverty is connected to the humility of Jesus as explained by Paul in Philippians 2: 5-8:

    “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (My italics added for emphasis.)

This scriptural call to imitate Christ is a call to spiritual poverty.


Poverty is a word so commonly used to denote lack of money and resources that we lose sight of all its conceptual ambiguity.

A few years ago I went through a period when my spiritual life felt so empty and dry that my daily prayers were a drag. Words that typically poured out to God from my heart in prayer wouldn’t come.

During this time I went on a spiritual retreat at a monastery and confided my condition to the spiritual director who was assigned to me, a witty nun who smiled and said to me, “You’re in a prayer slump and that’s OK — it happens to the best of us!”

This delightful nun said that when she gets in such slumps she prays these words: “Lord, please accept the poverty of my prayers.”

The acknowledgment of such “prayer poverty” unlocked whatever guilt or anxiety I felt about my failure to somehow communicate perfectly with God. Never mind that God isn’t a teacher grading our prayers with A’s or C’s or F’s anyway. The tradition of contemplative spiritually teaches that God hears even our silent prayers.

To abide in a humble state of spiritual poverty — the good kind of poverty — is, in a sense, to abide in weakness. But it’s a desirable kind of weakness, the kind of which Paul spoke in 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10:

    “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The poverty of spirit that pleases God doesn’t require that we give up all our hard-earned money and possessions, but rather that we don’t try to fill ourselves up to overflowing with money and materials or intangibles like power or prestige.

The materially poor among us aren’t all saints. They can, and many do, crave money and worldly stuff as much as wealthy and powerful people. The sins of envy and covetousness tend to have power over us all.

But it stands to reason that the poor are more pre-disposed to enjoying the rewards of spiritual poverty because they have little or nothing to lose materially. Some of the most joy-filled and well-adjusted people I’ve ever known are some of the poorest in terms of money and possessions.

The way to joy and gladness lies in living a humble, simple life driven not by wants and desires for things of the world, but rather by a constant attitude of gratitude and contentment both with what we have and don’t have.

The call to imitate Christ is a call to spiritual poverty.

The call to imitate Christ is a call to spiritual poverty.

As I was reading about the alienated young gunman who shot down other young people in Oregon, this famous quote from Mother Theresa came to mind:

    “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love.

    “There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.

    “The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
    (From A Simple Path: Mother Theresa)

Most of us are old enough to remember when these mass killings just didn’t happen in our country.

It seems to me that that’s a commentary primarily about the poverty of spirituality that leads to loneliness, alienation, despair and hopelessness.

All of which can, and all too often do, lead to violence in a culture that is awash in violence.

Lord in your mercy … hear our prayers.

Because we can never get enough music therapy in this crazy world:

Here’s “The Sunshine Superman’s” tribute song to his Honey, back in the day.

A blast from the past with Emmylou and Rodney Crowell and the boys–and if this doesn’t get your Jitterbug toes tapping I don’t know what to tell you.

And finally, the greatest of all “Dark Bar Songs”:

An atheist friend and longtime cultist here at the blog that is the Cult of the Jitterbugger emailed this to me:

    “I was very impressed that the Pope [in his speech to Congress] name-checked Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, two people that I would have never known about if not for you. I was also SHOCKED and PLEASED that he actually acknowledged non-believers (that has to be a first).”

I wrote back to him, with tongue pressed firmly against cheek:

    “I know. I’m pretty sure the Pope must be a longtime reader of my blawg!”


Longtime readers here at the Jitterbug Cult know that Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton have always been high on my list of faith heroes.

The Pope, who landed on my list of heroes his first week on the job, not only named and honored Merton and Day in his eloquent speech to Congress, but also name-checked my faith hero Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Francis also connected them to Lincoln, who is every American’s hero.)

The one thing that my faith heroes all had in common that appeals so strongly to me is this: They, like this living Pope, were all about the radical love of Christ.

They all were committed peacemakers who incarnated a radical love for the poor and oppressed. (Mother Theresa is obviously another high-ranking faith hero.) They pleaded for mercy and fought for justice for the very people that the radical, rabble-rousing Christ–he who was born homeless in the muck and mire of a barn a long way from any royal palace–anointed with most-favored status.

Pope Francis, of course, took on the very name of another hero, St. Francis, largely because of the great saint’s radical love of the poor (and his love of nature and the earth and all of God’s good, green Creation).

If you’ve not read or heard the Pope’s eloquent speech to Congress, here are excerpts about the aforementioned peacemakers and social justice warriors who are my heroes:

    A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

      ON DR. KING
      A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

    Here at the blog I frequently lift up my famous faith heroes to you who read it, mindful that this country and the world are full of heroic Christians who slug away every day in obscurity, incarnating the radical love and tender mercies of my Lord and savior.

    I read an article the other day about a guy called “the Sandwich Man,” whose name is Alan Law, who has fed 700,000 sandwiches to the homeless in Minneapolis. I try to recognize the unsung heroics of Christians like him every chance I get. His kind keep me inspired to do more for the poor and I hope the stories I share of his kind inspire you.
    Click here for Law’s story.

    Here are links to just four of my faith heroes, they who rank the highest:

    John Wesley: Being a cradle Methodist and ordained United Methodist deacon, I was inspired by Wesley from the time I was given a big dose of him in my Confirmation classes. He loved and served the poor, hated slavery and fought for social justice his whole, long life. He’s the theological “hero” of every devout Methodist Christian who ever was or ever will be.

    Dorothy Day: I once spent Christmas week at the Houston Catholic Worker, founded by Mark and Louise Zwick–two Catholics who have been doing heroic work for the poor, especially migrants and refugees, for decades. If you want to know more about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker faith tradition, explore the Houston Catholic Worker link here.

    Merton: That the Pope highlighted the lives and work of the American Catholics Day and Merton says a lot about their influence on so many Christians of all tribes, including me. More on My Main Man the Mystic Mr. Merton, as I fondly refer to him, here.

    The Pope, of course, had much more to say about Dr. King in his visit to a Harlem school. More on that here.

    And just a word to Pope Francis, who man after my own heart, since he obviously reads this blog:

    Bless you, good man.


Stinging satire gives us much-needed relief from absurdity.

And what could be more absurd than the United States Congress.



“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”

— Micah 6: 8

Your thought for the day is: Is homelessness in a nation that purports to be one nation under God acceptable to God?

Your thought for the day is: Is homelessness in a nation that purports to be one nation under God acceptable to God?

Since 2006, America has seen a 67 percent increase in the number of homeless children. We’ve reached a point where 2.5 million children under age 18 are without a permanent roof over their heads–far more than ever before.

Such unacceptable social ills have somehow become acceptable in a country where there is no shortage of citizens who identify as Christians.

We are good at deluding ourselves into thinking that we as Christians are Christian enough if we believe in God and if we do good for needy folks come Thanksgiving and Christmas.

(Isn’t it strange how our good American hearts feel so strangely warmed during the holidays, when we’re suddenly motivated to love the poor and homeless and do something for them in that brief season.)

Whatever we are doing in terms of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those who are sick and in prison–whatever we are doing to call out social injustice and build a more just society–we are clearly not doing what God requires of us, either as individual Christians or as a nation.

The statistics on homeless children alone are evidence enough of how short we’ve fallen in the God’s all-seeing eyes.


Open our eyes to the plight that you see as unacceptable.

Open our ears to the cries of those suffering the endless pressures and indignities of homelessness.

Help us to be mindful of your requirements to do justice as well as to love kindness and walk humbly.

Help us to be cheerful givers and doers as well as speakers of your word.


Speaking of needing a friend in Jesus (see today’s prior post):

Assuming that Auburn’s famous football Super Fan Tammy isn’t just playing us all for laughs, she’s got issues that aren’t even funny.

And I do hope she’s a well-adjusted woman who is in fact putting us on for grins.

But I, in my brief and failed career as a sports writer, saw just how manic-depressive fans can get.

And it was a trifle disturbing.


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