Regenerations/10 - are written in the lives of the righteous just as they are in the Gospel
by Luigino Bruni
published in Avvenire on 04/10/2015
“If I am guilty, woe to me! If I am in the right, I cannot lift up my head, for I am filled with disgrace and look on my affliction."
The Book of Job, 10,15.
Hunger and thirst may take many forms. They may be for food and water, but there are those for beauty, truth, love and prayer. One can suffer and die for severe shortage of bread and because of drought, but many suffer and sometimes die because of the ugliness of hospitals and schools, because they live in places filled with lies, because they do not love and are not loved, because we look inside ourselves in hard times seeking spiritual resources and we do not find anything and are unable to listen and talk to the spirit that lives within us and nourishes us.
These are all different forms of famine and drought; all of them are decisive. We are symbolic and meta-physical animals: in order to survive we need many different types of food and water. It is perhaps this plurality of possible nutrients that makes Homo Sapiens a special inhabitant of the planet that can starve amidst the opulence of food and drink and can be satiated by invisible substances, too.
If the only foods were those that satiate and quench our body, tens of thousands of years of evolutionary history would be wasted, when we started wishing for stars other than those of the night, listening to the voices and sounds of the mountains and clouds, filling the caves' walls with drawings and symbols that were "unnecessary" for hunting and fishing, and singing and maybe composing a few verses to look into a beloved person's eyes and love them not only in order to reproduce. And when human beings are removed from or denied the desires of these other types of food, because they are reduced to consumers and seekers of goods instead of the stars, we become too similar to our common ancestors, no longer singing the psalm: "Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings" (Ps 8:5). We have too many forms of hunger and thirst that no hypermarket can satisfy, and when the goods and money manage to satisfy our every hunger and thirst, the dignity of humanity recedes and is likely to become extinct: we will again exchange a poor man for a pair of sandals (Amos), we will sell a brother as a slave to merchants travelling to Egypt (Genesis). The expansion and the blossoming of human existence are, paradoxically, in the growing number of forms hunger and thirst can take. We come to this world craving a mother's breast that can only be left behind by craving a type of milk that only eternity can give us.
There is, however, a form of hunger and thirst that neither makes us sick nor causes us to die. They are those that the Gospel actually associates with a form of happiness, a bliss. There are thirsty and hungry people who are blessed. They are those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness." Justice can be food, it can be water. It can feed us like freshly baked bread; it can quench our thirst like a cold mountain spring.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness experience a famine, too. They too are poor and needy. Desires arise from the "absence of the stars" (de-sidera), eros has penury (Penia) as a parent. And as with any hunger and thirst, here too the body is the "place" where you feel and live this hunger and thirst. Hunger and thirst are experiences, not ideas. They are embodied words taking shape in our flesh - and as it happens with every word that's incarnated, we do not know what the word "hunger" means until the first concrete and conscious experience of hunger.
There are two types of hunger and thirst. There is the daily, healthy and good type for both, related to the normal rhythm of the meals, which does not cause any pain and waits only to be satiated. But there are also the hunger of famines and the thirst of the drought that millions of people still feel and live through, where a satiating lunch and thirst-quenching water can never be enough, and hunger and thirst are the daily bread. This second type of hunger is never satisfied, and this thirst is never quenched.
There is a hunger and thirst for justice that many, perhaps all of us can feel every day, just by living and cultivating our sense of justice. But bliss blooms during famines and droughts of justice. There are people in dictatorships, in the lagers and gulags, in prisons where they ended up just because they are poor and helpless, in the wrong and undeserved types of jobs, they only don't die because they feed off of their hunger and thirst for justice. The heart of this beautiful beatitude is the transformation of a lack of nourishment. Justice, since it is a primary good and basis for every common good, is a very special good, because the pain of its absence becomes bread and water. Just like in the fight between Hercules and Antaeus, the more Hercules hurled his opponent to the ground, the stronger his adversary rose back up again, because Antaeus was the son of the earth (Gaea). Hercules is unaware of this relation, and so he just makes Antaeus invincible while fighting him.
Those who fight a son of this type of justice, the more they deny to him the more they actually feed him, because they only increase his desire for what is taken away from him, and with it the energy and the strength to fight, too. Those who fight for a just cause, become increasingly stronger as the measure of injustice done to them grows, their energy increases with the thirst and hunger for the justice denied of them. However, during these famines we may die if we lose touch with the desire for justice, if we stop feeling his characteristic type of hunger and thirst. Just like in the myth, where Hercules can only kill Antaeus when he lifts him up from the ground, pulling him away from the source of his invisible and unbeatable source of power. If and when we stop yearning for justice and being hungry for the bread of life and thirsty for these rivers of living water, we get defeated in the battles against injustice, strangled by those who deny justice from us.
What satiety is then promised by the Gospel ("... they shall be satisfied"), if the bread of those who seek justice lies in its very lack? How can you be given to drink from water that quenches thirst because it isn't there yet?
If we stay within our life and our own history (the beatitudes are words spoken here and now, and we would lose a lot, even too much, of their prophecy if we postponed their validity to the end of time), we can understand that the satiety of justice is born while we suffer because of lacking it. The satiety that we feel when we struggle to free someone from the structures of injustice - save a victim of gamble, the mafia, trying to get out an innocent prisoner from jail, redeem a friend who entered into a spiral of debt through no fault of their own... - it is already bliss. If we do not sense and discover the beatitudes amidst the good fight, we will not find them ever, because it is life that creates this sublime form of happiness "live". If I do not hear the voice that tells me "blessed" while I feel a strong hunger and thirst for justice, I no longer have the strength to continue the fight, and I am dying of hunger and thirst. The happiness inside suffering is the first major motor of the history of the righteous. The differences between the justice that we want and the one we have is what can feed the righteous. I once saw a guy take a small tin can from a garbage dump, which then he turned into a cello to play Bach.
Upon hearing the word "blessed" resonate in the temple of the soul not all of us think it's a God speaking to us; but if there are people from different faiths who are nourished by their own struggles for justice - and there are many - then the voices that say "blessed" to us are many and varied. It is a chorus of voices singing on earth: "you are blessed". The water that satisfies the righteous ones is that of the public fountain in the country, the one that quenches all without asking where the source of that water quenching our thirst is. The land of the righteous is watered every day, it is nourished by the many voices that whisper to us from within: "happy", "blessed", "courage", "you were right", "you're fighting a good fight." It is a bliss that satiates, refreshes, sometimes even intoxicates us with a different but very powerful type of joy. It is felt clearer and stronger when our eyes cross with those of others who are fighting right next to us. Only with a thousand different voices can all the righteous hear being called "blessed." For the builders of Babel one language was enough but at the Pentecost of the righteous, there are many languages, all different and all equal.
This leads to a great hope. In the world there are many more beatitudes than those that the righteous can call by that name. We are not alone in our good fight for justice, we are not alone in crossing these deserts, our hearts are inhabited by many voices telling us that keep feeding us by saying "blessed" to us in many ways. The sky, with its dew, gives us a manna that feeds us every morning in this world. Many ask us amazed: "What is it?", and we cannot answer if the prophets do not explain it to us. But what really matters is that the righteous are fed inside, they feel satiated in poverty, so that they may survive and live in the midst of the famines of justice that never end - the poor, and so those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, will always be with us, and they will always have their beatitudes.
Multitudes of the righteous can hear themselves being called "blessed" in their soul even without having ever read the Gospel, or when they have forgotten it. A "kingdom of heaven" inhabited only by residents with passports and not by refugees and migrants would be a place that's just too small. Its skies would be too low, its horizons too narrow. The Kingdom of Heaven should be the kingdom of all of the righteous, each of them with their own language, all of them fed by the same food, drinking from the same water. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied".
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