The Beatitudes allow us to choose God over selfishness
It may be the most famous shot in Hollywood history. Reggie Callow, an assistant director of “Gone with the Wind,” credits it to the film’s production designer, William Menzies. “He devised and created the shot, and it was his suggestion that we use an oil derrick crane in order to pull the camera back to such a high position.”
On the eve of Atlanta’s fall to General Sherman’s Union army, Melanie Hamilton is about to give birth, so Scarlett O’Hara goes to the train yard to fetch Doctor Meade. Searching for the physician, she glides, without a glance, among stretchers bearing wounded soldiers. The camera begins to retreat from her progress, ascending into the air, revealing more and more wounded Confederate soldiers. The vista of injured continues to inflate, stunning us with the immensity of the suffering. The scene eventually expands to include a tattered Confederate battle flag, blowing forefront, high in the wind, the symbol of an oblivious pride that has wrought so much suffering.
If you have ever wondered why the Scriptures insist that only the meek and the humble can find God, this scene can offer an explanation. When we are proud and pushy, we are like Scarlett O’Hara and the South that birthed her. Lost in ourselves, we cannot see. Or, to be precise, the precious little that we do see is nothing compared to the reality of a world alienated from its creator.
When we can stand aside, stand outside ourselves, we finally see what surrounds us: a world created in love.
Indeed, one way to think of God is as the vast swath of reality that eludes us. Not so much the very image of God’s nature, it is nonetheless an apt description of our experience of God. When we finally begin to see all the world, which our self-centeredness has made smaller, we experience the immensity of God, the mystery that envelops us. Immensity, because it has no terminus. Mystery, because we cannot exhaust it, cannot fathom the depth of what is, the ultimate reality, in which the world truly rests.
If we understand that self-centeredness, occupying the position where God should properly stand, blinds us to the real, then we can begin to appreciate the Beatitudes as avenues of access to God. The poor in spirit, those who mourn and the meek: In contrast to the happy and the haughty, they begin to see God. Likewise, to hunger and to thirst for righteousness is to step outside ourselves. To show mercy is to recognize that we did not create, nor do we ultimately adjudicate, the world.
Our word for the revelation of God that follows our personal eclipse is grace. We recognize that our glimpse of a God whose immensity eludes us is itself a gift. To be clean of heart, to set upon the path of peace: These are gifts of God. Without them, we are all immature Scarletts. In the insecurity of self-indulgent blindness, we continue to connive, wondering why God has abandoned us.
Pray for grace. Pray for an inner eye that pans back and above. One that sets aside scheming and begins finally to see all that eludes those who are lost in themselves. “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth” (Zep 2:3).
Seeing the world as it is—a land cut off from its creator—will not shower us with success. Far from it. A world that cannot see itself must persecute those who do. Their perspicuity, their very existence is a challenge to such a world.
Yet “blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10). Whatever the kingdom will someday be, it is already an expanded view, an embrace of the real. When we can stand aside, stand outside ourselves, we finally see what surrounds us: a world created in love.