In a comment on a WaPo article about “Prosperity Gospel” televangelists, someone said:
Jesus taught us to think of others needs before our own.
As of now I dispute that Jesus taught that.
If he did teach that, Jesus was wrong.
Unless the Gospel is different for the rich than for the poor,
which I am unable and unwilling to believe.
(The teaching is pervasive in the words of Paul.)
Need and self-love
… have been consistent themes on this blog, so there is no need to discuss them in more than summary fashion now.
We all come into the world completely needy. One who chooses consistently to love oneself, learns to meet his or her own needs — material and emotional — and so becomes able to love and even be generous to others.
The challenge facing a poor person (And make no mistake: I am very poor.) is that one is surrounded by people who demand that one deny one’s own needs and meet their needs instead; given that they refuse to love themselves.
Refusal to love oneself has devastating effects for the individual and society.
On the one hand, it’s essential now that I care for myself enough to want to re-enter the social mainstream — leave homelessness, become self-supporting, have my own place, and so forth. I must want these things enough to work for them, and overcome obstacles to get them.
On the other hand, all my life, it’s been exceptionally difficult for me to want things for myself, especially material things.
I have faced, and even until a few days ago faced, the dilemma that I seemed to have a choice of caring for myself or caring for others instead. I was unable to attain a both-and approach. At all.
I have made some progress in wanting good things for myself, but it hasn’t been on impulse or in any way automatic. I have to be intentional about it all the time, and work at it.
On the other hand, I have always had a strong impulse to care for others. My earliest childhood memories are of a strong desire to comfort and encourage the downcast, the outcast, those in the outer darkness who weep surrounded by the fragments of their shattered dreams.
This has been my strongest motivation.
On a recent Sunday, the appointed texts included Isaiah 35. I recalled that this text presented itself to me decades ago as the epitome of what I hope to accomplish in life — my heart’s desire. Note particularly verses 3-6:
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
In more recent decades, the prospect of spiritual, physical healing has become more and more a part of this desire. I have wanted to become the ideal intercessor, the ideal catalyst of the transition of healing energies from the unseen world into the seen world; like the nanoparticles discussed in the first portion of “Prayer Primer.”
But would that ever bring about my becoming un-homeless?
I have come since to realize that a both-and approach begins with putting my own needs first.
I don’t need to be intentional about caring for others. It happens automatically. It’s what I’ve always done, intentionally or not. Like the lightning rod described in “Prayer Primer,” it has to do with my composition, what I’m made of. And as I continue to seek to grow spiritually, attending to the here-and-now and seeking to love the people around me, my effectiveness as a catalyst is likewise destined only to continue to improve.
Related: I really have nothing better to do.
Wednesday morning I had to make a run to the store around the corner, for coffee, sugar and creamer. On the way, I realized that my aura was unusually bright. I was shining. It felt, and I felt, really good. On the one hand, self-love is how that happens. On the other hand, while I am in that state, my presence is prone to lift the spirits of anyone who sees me. Such person is likely to smile at me, or if I smile at him or her, to smile back.
What sorts of conduct are likely to stem from such a state? Which, in itself, stems from adequate self-love.
It is enough.