catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 17 :: 2010.09.24 — 2010.10.07


More weight

PROCTOR: And Giles?

ELIZABETH: You have not heard it?

PROCTOR: I hear nothin’, where I am kept.

ELIZABETH: Giles is dead.

He looks at her incredulously.

PROCTOR: When were he hanged?

ELIZABETH, quietly, factually: He were not hanged. He would not answer aye or nay to his indictment for if he denied the charge they’d hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law. And so his sons will have his farm. It is the law, for he could not be condemned a wizard without he answer the indictment, aye or nay.

PROCTOR: Then how does he die?

ELIZABETH, gently: They press him, John.


ELIZABETH: Great stones they lay upon his chest until he plead aye or nay. With a tender smile for the old man: They say he give them but two words. “More weight,” he says. And died.

PROCTOR, numbed — a thread to weave into his agony: “More weight.”

ELIZABETH: Aye. It were a fearsome man, Giles Corey.

from The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The other night, my husband Rob and I wandered around the Art Prize district in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a while.  At one of the first locations we visited, a white wall with pens readily available invited viewers to contribute.  Their additions to the wall were contextualized by a single word emerging out of the wall: CONFESS.  I didn’t write anything on the wall (yet), but a stream of possibilities ran through my head.

One such confession: there are some buzz words that snatch me right out of a communal prayer and make it impossible for me to be a full participant in the conversation.  “Awesome” is one.  The un-charmingly colloquial “Lord-I-just-wanna” is another.  Also in the top three for the past several years: “blessing.”

The more I’ve heard the word “blessing” (over)used, the more I’ve come to realize how anemic our understanding of blessing is, though I haven’t quite been able to wrap my mind around my unease.  Too often, it’s used with a found-an-extra-toy-in-my-cereal kind of flippancy, like God is the magic Santa who loaded our garages with two-wheeled toys and stocked our bank accounts with annual bonuses.  We generally consider ourselves blessed when we are well-fed, financially solvent, happy and relatively free to do as we choose.

To be sure, God is the source of many things we did not — could never — earn.  All things have their beginning and their end in the creative Word, who is a source of overflowing abundance, almost-embarrassing fecundity, more-than-enough-for-everyone.  However, much of what we immediately think of as blessing these days also functions as curse.  Consider Luke’s version of the beatitudes:

Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.

Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Jesus’ words here are both simple and infinitely complex — surely cause for meditation over the course of a lifetime.  Likewise, the conferring of blessing throughout the biblical narrative is complex.  A blessing is never just a bunch of free stuff God drops down the chimney for eldest sons and chosen people; rather it’s a granting of responsibility and the mysterious overflow that results from the faithful acceptance of that responsibility.

I can’t help but think of Giles Corey when I read Jesus’ words: “’Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”  I can’t help but think of John Perkins, an aging civil rights activist and community developer from Mississippi, who at eighty years old, still prays for more faith so that he’s able to take on more of the world’s suffering — this hope, after being severely beaten by police as a young African American man in the South.  I learn from people both fiction and non-fiction that blessing is not a place of arrival, a destination of static comfort characterized by security; blessing is a way of being in God that asks us to give, and to trust, a way characterized by contentment and hope, even in suffering.

I am a person who bears the unearned mark of privilege in today’s world — white, educated, middle class, North American, Protestant, mentally stable, physically able.  As such, I believe that rather than self-righteously reveling in my so-called blessing, I am obligated to understand the weight of my blessing, starting with a holy woe-is-me fear of God.  I am the one who is provoked, not comforted by Jesus’ words.  The question then becomes: provoked unto what?

Being born with a light load, my shoulders are fit to bear others’ burdens, lest my body begin to atrophy.  Augustine advises, “Something that does not give out when it’s given away is not possessed as it should be when it is not given away.”  So what happens when I give of my religious privilege toward the cause of loving marginalized Muslims?  Or my economic privilege by choosing to invest in a struggling neighborhood?  Or my white privilege to speak out against racial injustice in my city? 

On the surface, such paths might appear to invite woes: strained relationships with family members, less security for my children and my home, fewer insider privileges in the halls of power, more sorrow for identifying with the oppressed.  But the promises of an upside down Kingdom make little sense in the context of a right-side-up status quo.  And where the invasive species of pride and greed die off, space opens up where more hardy natives like unconditional love and true peace can thrive. In the middle of such a garden grows a joy that is not easily swayed by winds of adversity.  As Theresa of Avila writes, “Let nothing upset you / let nothing startle you. / All things pass; / God does not change.”

May those of us who have extra room on our shoulders and extra space in our hearts have the courage to pray for blessing with harder words, load-bearing words.  Say the fearsome men and women, all together now: “More weight.”

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