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A spiritual hunger

This is the fifth in a nine-part series on the Beatitudes and their relevance in a 21st century world.

From the July 2005 issue of The Christian Science Journal

What he was preaching was attitude. Not attitude of the variety of sullenness or hostility. But attitude as in a state of mind or disposition. Though it may sound trite to some, that's the way I've always thought of Jesus' declarations of blessedness in the Sermon on the Mount—as "be-attitudes," instructions on how to think and live in a manner that will inevitably bring blessings.

Viewed this way, the fourth beatitude—"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" Matt. 5:6.—seems particularly promising. Who, at some point in life, hasn't hungered and thirsted after one thing or another? Maybe it's a need for health or companionship. Money to pay bills. Even a need for faith in God. Given life's constant demands, I can't think of a better assurance than one that says there's a hungering that will leave us filled. And, as I've seen in my own life, this hungering actually brings blessings far beyond our initial expectations. The key is to be clear about what one's needs really are.

There was a time when I desperately needed money to pay the bills, and I felt a tremendous fear of not being able to put food on the table for my wife and children or keep a roof over our heads. I had taken every step I could think of to ameliorate the situation. And, as is my practice, I had also prayed long and hard—but apparently to no avail. The situation looked pretty hopeless.

As I think of the beatitude under consideration here, I realize that I had, indeed, been hungering and thirsting all those years ago. The problem lay in the fact that what I thought I needed was the money to pay bills. And that, rather than righteousness (as the beatitude counsels), was what I'd been seeking. The result had been, in the words of the Epistle of James: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss." James 4:3. Mary Baker Eddy echoed this idea in Science and Health when she wrote: "Experience teaches us that we do not always receive the blessings we ask for in prayer. There is some misapprehension of the source and means of all goodness and blessedness, or we should certainly receive that for which we ask." Science and Health, p. 10.

Although these two passages may not sound particularly heartening, I actually take great comfort in the idea they communicate: that although we think we know what we need or want—the money, the right relationship, the new job—God knows what we really need. Consequently, as we focus on seeking to be righteous, on being and doing good, the way God made us to, that's when we'll be blessed—more thoroughly and substantially than we could have ever envisioned.

This is what happened to me back in that time of crisis. One day, just when things seemed bleakest, from somewhere—as if from far away, yet also as if from deep within my heart—came a voice that said in so many words, "Use your talents! Acknowledge the spiritual qualities God has given you, and employ them in every conceivable way to bless everyone around you. Do this diligently, faithfully, consistently, and all will be well."

I began to realize it wasn't money I needed, as much as a clearer sense of my own value—to God, to myself, and to my fellow men and women. That might sound irrational, considering that I was so in need of funds to pay my bills. But what occurred to me as I thought about it was that money is merely the symbol of value, not the source of it. God is the real source. And finding my worth meant tapping into that source—expressing Him in love, goodness, wisdom, understanding, courage, strength, humility, and so on. As I did this, I would feel my oneness with Him—with the "open fount" ibid., p. 2. of all goodness and blessedness. What I also began to see was that it was in the hunger and thirst to recognize and express these qualities that my real purpose would be realized—namely to be righteous, to live rightly, truly, in accordance with God's purpose for me and for everyone.

I was obedient to that message, and with everything I did, I sought to recognize, acknowledge, and value the spiritual qualities I could see being expressed in all my activities—from household chores, to loving my wife and kids, to helping my neighbors. It was a conscious effort to see the goodness of God reflected in every facet of my life, but what happened as a result has brought blessings to my family and me ever since.

As the years have gone by, I've seen more and more that the spiritual truth behind this beatitude is a law of spiritual reflection, not one of material consumption. In other words, hungering and thirsting after righteousness has come, to me, to mean recognizing the absolute demand to demonstrate and utilize what God has already given us of His infinitely replenishable goodness and love, wisdom, and courage. To be His reflection, which is what we already are. This, in turn, enables us to express true righteousness—right living, right being, right acting.

And the promise? Yes, the promise is that we shall be filled. That doesn't just mean being able to pay our bills and provide for our families—although that is part of it, as it was in my case. As it turned out, my family has never been without a roof over our heads, food on the table, money to pay the bills. But beyond that, as I'm seeing more and more, the promise has never been a matter of becoming filled up with what we need, but of realizing how completely and thoroughly we've always been filled—with the capacity to reflect God's goodness and love. Herein lies our value, our real worth. And when we see it, the world sees it and values it, too.

Karl (Sandy) Sandberg is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Norwell, Massachusetts.

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