In a March New Yorker article, Dr. Robert Sapolsky explored an oft-recognized human phenomenon: The older we get, the more closed-minded and repetitious we become.
"What a shock," he writes, "to discover at the age of 40, you've already been dipped in bronze and placed on a mantelpiece....if there's a rich, vibrant world out there, it shouldn't be just for 20-year-olds to explore for exploration's sake."
But Dr. Sapolsky does more than mourn the creativity which closed-minded individuals forfeit. "When I see the finest of my (open-minded) students ready to run off to the Peace Corps and minister to lepers in the Congo -- or teach some kid in the barrio just outside the university how to read -- I remember that, once, it was easier to be that way. An open mind is a prerequisite to an open heart." As we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, we hear our Sacred Authors echoing the same principle.
Each follower of God wants to be present in that "huge crowd which no one can count from every nation, race, people and tongue;" those whom the author of Revelation sees marked with God's seal at the end of the world (Rev 7:2-4, 9-14). All of us long to be counted among "the ones who have survived the great period of trial; (who) have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
Yet, as the author of I John teaches his community, this joyful event happens only to those followers of Jesus who totally become "children of God," a "becoming" which not only makes us one with Jesus, but also prepares us to experience a huge future change (I Jn 3:1-3).
"What we shall later be," the author writes, "has not yet come to light. We know that when it comes to light, we shall be like God, for we shall see God as God is."
Contrary to popular religious opinion, eternity isn't a static, unchanging existence; it's a constant becoming -- a becoming which gradually makes us one with the God we're experiencing.
That seems to be why our God calls us to be constantly open-minded throughout our earthly lives. Such a mind-set is a preparation and prerequisite for the open-mindedness and open-endedness of eternity. And nothing presumes more of both characteristics than Jesus' invitation to experience the Beatitudes.
Notice how each of the blessings on which Jesus calls us to reflect is the opposite of what most people expect from such an occurrence (Mt. 5:1-12). The poor reign, the sorrowing are consoled, those who hunger and thirst for otherness are filled, the merciful receive mercy, the single-hearted see God, the peacemakers become God's children, those who are persecuted because they're other become one with God -- the most unique other -- and the insulted, persecute and slandered will one day rejoice in heaven.
Jesus isn't telling us here to become poor, sorrowing, hungry and thirsty, or to start working on our mercy, single-heartedness and peacemaking, or even to seek out persecution, insult and slander. He's simply telling us to notice what happens along with the pain which each of these experiences brings; to reflect deeply on another dimension, a dimension which most people overlook because of their close-mindedness.
Dr. Sapolsky's insight helps us better understand why it's so important for Jesus' disciples to see a blessing in circumstances which others regard as a curse. Unless we keep our minds open and fresh to what God's doing in our everyday, humdrum, painful lives, we'll never notice the needs of those around us or be generous and creative enough to respond to them.
The irony of the Beatitudes is that Jesus presumes His followers are imitating Him sufficiently enough to have run into the difficulties which each blessing brings. Yet only those whose minds continue to seek and search actually discover the joy which accompanies and flows from the pain which comes from serving others.
An open heart is never an accident.