We have seen from our consideration of the first Beatitude that its meaning is greatly beyond what appears to the superficial view. So shall we find it to be when considering this and the subsequent Beatitudes.
The Greek word pentheo, translated “mourn,” means to mourn, grieve, bewail, to feel grief or sorrow, or to experience pain–with the connotation of willing to do so. This sounds even worse than the First Beatitude.
Even though this, too, has a profound meaning, there is no escaping the fact that it does indeed urge us to a type of sorrow or suffering. Faced with this we must also face the destructive conditioning which afflicts nearly all members of contemporary Western society: the almost obsessive fear of and aversion to discomfort or even inconvenience, and a virtually hysterical fear and avoidance of pain. This, of course, is the obverse of the coin of which the “head” is the pursuit of comfort and pleasure without regard to the material or moral cost. Enjoyment as the summum bonum of life is an idol whose blind and heedless worship is destroying the lives of countless millions who pride themselves on their “good living.” This evil conditioning must be shaken off if we would attain any goal of significant magnitude–what to say of the highest possible objective: the attainment of Christhood.
The aspirant fully enters the path only through much testing–very little of it pleasant or easy. And his life is one of incessant labor in the Great Work. It can be said of the endeavor for Christhood as it is about the American Westward Expansion: “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way.” Jesus was not exaggerating when he urged his hearers: “Strive to enter in at the strait [exceedingly narrow] gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24). The Greek word agonizesthe (from which we get our English “agony” and “agonize”), translated “strive,” means to labor or fight desperately.
A graphic lesson
Christian Tradition says that a disciple once asked Jesus when he would find God. In response, Jesus took him to a river and led him out into the deep water. The disciple assumed that some esoteric ritual–perhaps another type of baptism–was going to be administered to him. How glad he was that he had asked the question! And how amazed he was when the Master simply shoved his head under the water and would not let him up! At the moment when he could no longer endure it, the Lord raised him up, and he began to gulp in the life-giving air. “What were you thinking about while I was holding you under?” asked Jesus. “I wasn’t thinking of anything–except that if I didn’t get some air I would die,” was the rather disgruntled answer. “When you have that feeling in relation to God,” said the Lord, “you will find Him.”
Right at the beginning of our spiritual search we need to engrave in our minds the truth that no price is too high to pay for eternal life. We also need to understand that the “price” of eternal life is the laying aside of our present temporal life which in reality is death. As Jesus taught, if we hold on to the illusion we call “our” lives, we will thereby lose the real life, the life of–and in–God (Matthew 10:39; 16:25). But if we are willing to give up the illusion of a separate life independent of God, we will find our true life in His greater life.
When Jesus told the Apostles that anyone who wished to follow him and become a Christ would at the very first have to deny himself and take up his cross (Matthew 16:24), he was stating an irrevocable principle. Crosses are not comfortable or convenient–quite the contrary. But they are liberating.
The crux of this Beatitude is its implication that the mourning must be voluntary. We must actively seek it–something that is completely contrary to our earthly nature. This must be well understood before we begin to consider the actual nature of that mourning.
In Psalm 137 we read: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Psalms 137:2-6).
Being in captivity, the memory of Jerusalem gave pain to the Hebrews. To escape pain would have been easy–they need only forget Jerusalem and fix their attention and interest in Babylon. Yet such an idea was hateful to them, for they had determined that Jerusalem would be valued by them above the greatest joy.
All of this is, of course, symbolic. Jerusalem is our true home, the Bosom of God, and the corresponding state of consciousness. Babylon is immersion in relative, egoic existence, forgetful of our true home, materially idolatrous.
Although we are slaves in this Babylon, we have come to look upon our state as freedom, and decry any attempt to rid us of that delusion. We are like cattle penned up for fattening. Enjoying the “good things,” we look upon our life as the best possible. Since we can move anywhere we want within the range of our pen of human limitation, we consider ourselves free agents and masters of our destiny. Yet all the time the scythe of death is being sharpened for us and may come upon us at any moment. If not death, then changes of various sorts can crumble our seeming security and contentment to dust. Yet we will not learn, we will not follow the example of the Prodigal Son and arise and go back to the Father.
In such a state we need to remember our lost home and conceive a yearning for it. If it does not arise spontaneously, then we must set about consciously and deliberately reorienting ourselves. Certainly the inmost part of our being does yearn for an end to our exile, but it lies smothered beneath the distracting debris of our ego and its accretions. Meditation is the sovereign remedy for this suffocation.
What we need to do
“Happiness” is another idiot god like Enjoyment, an emotional will-o-the-wisp that draws us into the quicksand of material consciousness in which all sense of spiritual reality is drowned. Does this mean that we are being exhorted to deliberately make ourselves miserable? Not in the least. When we rid ourselves of the fly-paper delusion of shallow happiness we will be enabled to experience real joy.
What we are being urged to cultivate is a nostalgia, a homesickness, for conscious union with God–a longing that will wean us from our deadly involvement with the poisoned toys of illusion. For the plain fact is, spiritually speaking, our tongues are stuck to the roof of our mouth and our right hands are withered up through our forgetfulness of God. And we should come to grieve over our self-willed plight. But it is a joyful grief, for it will help in ending the separation from God that is the root of our sorrow.
A beautiful example
Before concluding this subject, here is a brief quotation from a great English saint of the fifteenth century, Margery Kempe. She wrote the first autobiography in the English language (speaking of herself in the third person), and there she sets forth a perfect example of blessed mourning.
“On a night, as this creature lay in her bed with her husband, she heard a sound of melody so sweet and delectable, that she thought she had been in Paradise, and therewith she started out of her bed and said: ‘Alas, that ever I did sin! It is full merry in Heaven.’
“This melody was so sweet that it surpassed all melody that ever might be heard in this world, without any comparison, and caused her, when she heard any mirth or melody afterwards, to have full plenteous and abundant tears of high devotion, with great sobbings and sighings after the bliss of Heaven, not dreading the shames and the spites of this wretched world. Ever after this inspiration, she had in her mind the mirth and the melody that was in Heaven, so much, that she could not well restrain herself from speaking thereof, for wherever she was in any company she would say oftentimes: ‘It is full merry in Heaven.’
“And they that knew her behavior beforetime, and now heard her speaking so much of the bliss of Heaven, said to her:
“‘Why speak ye so of the mirth that is in Heaven? Ye know it not, and ye have not been there, any more than we.’ And were wroth with her, for she would not hear nor speak of worldly things as they did, and as she did beforetime.”
Although our mourning need not be so overt, it should nonetheless be as heartfelt. Our mourning should be far more intellectual than emotional, actually, and should manifest in a love of spiritual life and practice.
For they shall be comforted
The second half of the Beatitude promises: “for they shall be comforted.” This is not completely inaccurate, but the meaning of the word parakaleo is much richer. It literally means “for they shall be called for” in the sense of a person being called to a better situation or summoned to receive consolation, as when we call a crying child to come sit on our lap. It also means to be drawn to someone by their caring for us.
From this we understand why we should mourn. Since we have within us the dynamic power of God to create our destiny, if we truly long for God we shall come to God. Further, it is a joyful secret of spiritual life that if we yearn for God, He yearns for us, and like the father of the Prodigal Son, sees us while we are yet far away and comes running to embrace and receive us.
So to us pilgrims of the spirit the happy counsel is given to fervently call out in our hearts for God, to be implacable in our demand for communion with Him, and He shall surely call for us and draw us unto Himself in His perfect love. As the old hymn says: “Open wide Thine arms of love–Lord, I’m coming home.” That is truly blessed.
God first–God alone
This Beatitude has the implied meaning that we must come to desire God alone, all other desires being laid aside as meaningless. Our feeling for God must be as it is expressed in the marriage service: forsaking all others, we must cleave to God alone.
Another verse of the Psalms regarding the sorrows of the captives in Babylon says: “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones” (Psalms 137:9). That sounds positively gruesome until we realize that the “children of Babylon” are the impulses to ignorance and material entanglements. And happy is he who dashes them against the rock of discriminating wisdom and the loving remembrance of God.
We must be like children who have played long enough with toys. Although we spent the whole day distracted with the fun, a much deeper longing than that for amusement has arisen within us: the longing for our mother. Then all toys become boresome and even distasteful to us. Many other people may try to catch our interest, but they fail because they are not the one we are wanting to see. Nothing can satisfy us–only her. But we have to get boisterous about it! As long as we just quietly say we want our mother, we get nowhere. Even shouting may not get the response we want. But if we begin to cry, to shed tears and grieve, calling for her, showing ourselves to be inconsolable without her, then her heart will be moved and she will come to us and take us on her lap and comfort us. Our Divine Mother and Father cannot fail to respond to those who make Them their only happiness.
But what great sensitivity on our part is required to fulfil this ideal! Yet we can develop it through meditating regularly, in this way truly worshipping God in spirit and in truth every day of our life.
Read the next article in Gnosis of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes: Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.