My husband, two kids and I were driving back home as the first drops of snow for the season began to fall. The snow had started fall gently but now it came down soft and thick. We made our way slowly down the obscure highway, trees entombing us on all sides. And then, suddenly, the car veered dramatically to the left, and without another second’s notice we were spinning out of control.
We spun dangerously forward, and then flew across the road into the oncoming lane. So this is how I die, I thought.
My husband, unable to control the car, let go of the wheel. There was nothing more he could do. As we made straight for the trees, I grabbed the front dashboard and cried to my God for help. I could not even pray. I could only repeat his name, loudly, clearly—urgently.
After a few breathless whirls, we flew into the ditch, and stopped.
I looked around, we looked at each other, everyone was okay. The car wasn’t even damaged. Almost immediately a big pickup truck pulled over and two big burly men walked out. They happened to have some ropes. With a little bit of effort, we were out of the ditch in 15 minutes.
We only had a moment to catch our breath before we were back on the road, our heads still spinning. In so many few seconds our lives had hung so precariously on providence.
The next day as I was speaking about the incident to a friend, she asked me, “So what do you think God’s message is in all this?”
I wanted to say that there is no message, sometimes things are random. But I thought on it.
We had moved to a new city last year with a lot of hopes, a lot of anticipation. And while it has been a beautiful journey, it has not been, excuse the pun, an easy ride. And in fact, exactly that. At the point of our going off the road, my husband and I had been having a heated discussion on life and the direction we wanted our family to take. There were big changes on the horizon. And something needed to change, but we didn’t know what we should do.
We didn’t know what direction to take.
And for the last few weeks we had been spinning around in circles, confused, calling out to God in prayer, numerous times.
There is a passage in our Holy Scriptures that I kept thinking of: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
At the time of the accident, my husband and I had been reading a book by Jacques Philippe about the eight Beatitudes. Poverty of spirit is the first Beatitude. But poverty is not material deprivation necessarily. As Philippe explains in The Eight Doors of the Kingdom, true poverty is a situation that is “sorrowful, suffering, precarious, humiliating…” Poverty is when your wife is sick with cancer, when you can’t resolve some difficult tension with your teenager, when you discover your husband is an alcoholic, when you realize the job you are working for no longer covers the bills—but perhaps it is more the humiliation of discovering you cannot always provide. Poverty is spinning out of control in a car and having to let go of the wheel because in that moment you no longer have any control over your situation.
Poverty is the moment when you turn to your God, because other than your God, there is no one who will listen, no one who can help you.
“…For theirs is the kingdom of God.”
This moment, my religion teaches me, is a moment of pure joy. This moment of utter poverty is the paradoxical entering into paradise.
This is folly, this is madness.
The week of the accident my husband was reading the Bible and he understood something he had not understood before. There is a parable in the Gospels about a rich man who hosts a large feast. But when the feast is ready, all those he has invited are unable to attend because of other commitments—one has a wedding, another must tend to his oxen, and so on. So, enraged, and insistent that his feast be held anyways, the rich man sends out his servant to the alleys and sideroads of the town to pick up the lame and the beggars to bring them in to feast with him (Luke 15-24).
I’d never understood that parable before until that evening when my husband explained it to me in a way that really touched my heart. The first invitees did not want to go to the feast because they were happy and content with what they had—they were rich enough that they could feast on their own. The poor who were invited next were not sent out invitations; someone came out to them and brought them in personally.
I realized that a spirit of poverty is less our lack of material goods than it is an openness to receiving God’s mercy and goodness.
When we spun out of control, we overstepped that invisible line of self-sufficiency and realized we could not do without God. We realized we did not have the resources to feast on our own. We never did.
And God was inviting us to be with him.
Philippe, Jacques. The Eight Doors of the Kingdom: Meditations on the Beatitudes. New York: Scepter Publishers, Inc. 2018.