For those living in spiritual poverty, job training is not enough

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“Blues with a feeling is what I feel today.
Blues with a feeling is what I feel today.
I’m gonna pack up my suitcase and make my getaway.”
— Blues harmonica player Little Walter

“Nothin in my pocket but the bottom,
More than I can say for my shoe.
Speaking of the blues, I got ’em.
That’s all I can afford to lose.
You know I need. Yes, I need someone.
Oh, before you reach the end,
You too might need a friend.”
— Blues guitarist Mighty Joe Young

Last week, we spoke of the poverty of income: the 37 million who are poor according to the U.S. government, and the additional 90 million who are poor because they’re having a hard time making ends meet, because they’re living from paycheck to paycheck. But poverty of income is only one type of poverty.

Opinion: For those living in spiritual poverty, job training is not enough

We also have poverty of spirit. Whereas poverty of income is about an external deficit, poverty of spirit is about an internal deficit. Whereas poverty of income is about an insufficient amount of funds in our checking account, poverty of spirit is about an insufficient amount of spirit, or love, in our heart.

Now, when many in the religious world speak of a poverty of the spirit, they cite an insufficient connection to God, the need for the sinner to develop a closer relationship with “The Almighty.” This may be correct, but it is also misleading.

Why? Because they speak of God as some omnipresence outside the person, as some kind of bearded Charlton Heston perched on a stool high above us in the sky, pondering whether to tap us on the shoulder to tell us we’re saved or condemned to eternal damnation.

Yes, God is outside of us, but God is inside of us as well. God is part of nature, the cosmos. God is part of all living beings. Therefore, if God is inside of us, all of us, all of nature, then God is the blood, the breath, the spirit, the wisdom that constitutes our soul.

Therefore, when we speak of poverty of spirit, we are speaking about an internal deficit within us, within our heart. We are saying that we are impoverished spiritually, not because we haven’t seen or spoken to Charlton Heston lately; not because we don’t have a job; not because we just lost our husband to a young and ambitious secretary, or lost our wife to a younger, more virile “Mandingo” with a better paying job.

More succinctly, we are impoverished because we haven’t reconnected to the God within us.

Some of us have been so damaged by racism and poverty that we need more than a job training program. The prospect of one day getting a living-wage job may not in itself be enough motivation to even start such a program, much less stick with training once they’ve enrolled. Some of us got them “blues with a feeling” and sho nuf need a friend.

For some of us to heal, we need to be surrounded by brothers and sisters who understand and respect us, who, in their day-to-day interactions, lift our spirit and fill our soul — whose warm smile and welcoming handshake says, “I believe in you.”