Excerpt from Poverty of Spirit
by Johannes Baptist Metz
The innate Poverty of Humanity
When we encounter Jesus Christ, we become sharply aware of our innate poverty as human beings. We see then the dire want of a person who lives on the bread of eternity, whose food is to do the will of God (ch. Jn 4:54).
Did not Jesus live in continual dependence on Someone else? Was not his very existence hidden in the mysterious will of the Father? Was he not so thoroughly poor that he had to go begging for his very personality from the transcendent utterance of the Father?
We are all beggars. We are all members of a species that is not sufficient unto itself. We are all creatures plagued by unending doubts and restless, unsatisfied hearts. Of all creatures, we are the poorest and the most incomplete. Our needs are always beyond our capacities, and we only find ourselves when we lose ourselves.
We cannot rest content in ourselves. In the elements and experiences of our life, to which we give meaning, we do not find satisfying light and protective security. We only find these things in the intangible mystery that overshadows our heart from the first day of our lives, awakening questions and wonderment and luring us beyond ourselves. We surrender ourselves to this mystery, as a person in love surrenders to the mystery of the beloved and there finds rest. We are creatures whose being is sheltered and protected only insofar as we open ourselves up to intangible, greater realities. We are at peace in the open, unconquered precincts of mystery.
If we leave our dreamy conceptions aside and focus on our naked poverty, when the mask falls and the core of our Being is revealed, it soon becomes obvious that we are religious "by nature," that religion is the secret dowry of our Being. In the midst of our existence there unfolds the bond (re-ligio) that ties us to the infinitely transcendent mystery of God, the insatiable interest in the Father that captivates us and underlines our poverty...
The unending nature of our poverty as human beings is our only innate treasure. We are unlimited indigence since our very self-possession, the integrity and lucidity of our coming-to-Being, spring not from ourselves but from the intangible mystery of God. The ultimate being is the ecstatic appearance of Being, and becoming fully human is an ever growing appropriation of this ecstasis of Being. This demands an attentive receptivity and obedient assent to the total claim and inescapable quandary that the mystery of God poses to our human existence.
Although we do not choose to be religious or nonreligious in regard to our innermost Being, nonetheless we are faced with the choice implied in self-acceptance or self-alienation. We can surrender to the ecstatic poverty of our Being, through "poverty of spirit" abiding in it... But we can also dissemble our dependence on God, close in upon ourselves, "take scandal" at our innate poverty. The temptation to do this is great. The radical indigence of our humanity has something repulsive about it. It devastates us, tears down self-created defenses and jars us out of the familiar, routine horizon of everyday life.
All too easily, we live alienated from the truth of our Being. The threatening "nothingness" of our poor infinity and infinite poverty drives us hither and thither among the distractions of everyday cares. We run away from the "night," with its fear and trembling before the truth of our Being, into the bright lights of easily understood platitudes. St. Paul termed this as seeking the security of the "Law," a security that distorts the elusive mystery and open authenticity of our Being...
Left to ourselves, we still remain the prisoner of our own Being. We cannot successfully hide for long our mysterious Being. If we attempt this, the truth of our Being haunts us with its nameless emissary: anxiety. This becomes the prophet of the repressed mystery of our Being; with its alienation, anxiety takes the place of the scorned poverty. In the final analysis we have one of two choices: to obediently accept our innate poverty or to become the slave of anxiety. (pp 25-28)