When Wendy and I were first married we had in our house a machine. This machine lived quietly alone most of the time and this is an elliptical machine. Its paddles turn a big wheel, encased in a plastic shell. Each time we get on it, we pushed the pedal, and you would hear the wheel spin, heavily. Sometimes when I used this machine which it would be nice to still have, I reflected on the Beatitudes and it struck me then that these verses have a familiar rhythm of their own. They come around, again and again.
My mother used to caution my brothers and I whenever a squabble broke out amongst us (which was often, and I remember quite often being on the receiving end of my brother’s actions): “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Having said that I wonder if she knew where it came from. I had no idea what that was supposed to mean. I only knew what my mother meant. Stop fighting with your brothers. I did, for some reason, believe it was my job to keep the peace, even if it meant giving in to make the fight stop. Take the blame if you must. It turned me off the Beatitudes. I eventually heard the Beatitudes where this came from by reading the Bible and being informed of this by Sister Childs of the Church Army, our Bible Class Teacher in my early teens.
I read them all, and I thought they sounded sad, mostly. Still, it was clear they mattered, that I was supposed to attend to them. They reflect the human condition, the elliptical way of a spiritual life. We know we are working hard, but we wonder whether we are going anywhere. I’ve gotten on the machine when some other member of the family used it last, someone stronger and taller, and found I could not make the pedals move at all. Unfortunately, it didn’t work very well, didn’t activate, until the pedals went around. So, in order to change the level of resistance from someone else’s 6 or 7 to my level of around 1 or maybe even up to 4, I had to find a way to make the wheel spin first.
The way of Jesus will sometimes feel like the elliptical on an exercise machine set unexpectedly at level 10. When we feel as if someone is persecuting us for being the kind of person we believe we’re meant to be, the kind of person God calls us to be, it’s hard work to turn the wheel, to get things in motion again, to feel actually blessed by God in the moment of challenge. When I have to get the actual elliptical started under those difficult circumstances, I remember that gravity is my friend, and I step on and let my weight carry the paddle down, hoping the batteries will come to life.
Or we could ask for help, if someone stronger is nearby. In our effort to be disciples of Jesus and live the way our God calls us to, we may need to let the weight of the moment carry the pedals around, slowly at first. We may need to ask for the help of others who have been there before. God blesses their faithfulness in the face of resistance. God will bless ours, too. So, what does that mean. What is our life to look like if we are taking the Beatitudes seriously?
If we go to one of the other readings of scripture for the day from Micah it says: “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 NRSV). This time of year, (Post Christmas) I become a lot more conscious of walking. Walking is normally a pretty natural thing for me. I don’t think much about it when I put one foot in front of the other. We’ve had a lot of ash, haze, particle dust lately, though, and walking takes more concentration.
We need to take care. In December when I had been to an appointment I was walking through the haze in Sydney and was concentrating so much on the path in front I failed to see the branch that whacked me in the head. Once of course the haze clears walking is fun. The prophet Micah says God’s people are called to walk humbly with God. Walking with God can be treacherous, easy, fun, or difficult. Sometimes it requires great concentration to decide what is the right thing to do, how to act in a tough situation. Sometimes it’s easy; we know exactly what to do from the beginning.
Sometimes it’s frightening, because walking the right path can lead to change, and change isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes it is dangerous to pursue justice, or even to love kindness. When we challenge the societal norms, we can put ourselves at risk of being ostracised, or worse.
Walking simply takes practice. The more we practice prayer, being kind, justice-making, the more natural those things become. That doesn’t mean we won’t make a wrong step, slip, or fall down. But we continue to walk with God anyway. The more we walk, the more at ease we become, even on the hazy days.