We Are All Beggars

Chaz Howard

Reading by Liz Helgesen (Download file)

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A lived theology of the bottom does not see the world through good and evil lenses.  This is not a denial of the existence of evil, rather it is believing that evil is something that is done by people. People are not bad, they just sometimes do bad things.  And all bad things have a source – soil from which they emerge.  

As a seminarian, I met a young poet named Anne Marie who once penned in a poetic letter she shared with me; “Fear is the garden of sin.”   Over time to that I’ve come to add “hurt” as well, for the wounded heart is often a source for great compassion or great violence.

Knowledge that those around us who are doing wrong, do so for a reason, should allow us to see and appreciate their humanity and their potential to be redeemed.

It’s radical to believe in the potential for redemption.  A person who robs stores and/or deals drugs is not an evil person.  Perhaps it was life circumstances, mental health, fear, a lack of options, a lack of education that led them to this point in their lives.  Hopelessness, desperation and the feeling of being dehumanized can take an individual to depths that they did not know they possessed.  

The humility and strength of character that one must feel in order to bring themselves to pan handle or beg for money or for food is something deeply foreign to most of us.  If it were not hard enough to have to extend one’s hand and beg for scraps, the experience of being ignored by people who have the means to change your life is heartbreaking.  And those who stop often give you only a few coins, never touching your hand, never looking you in the eyes, never asking your name.  Over time for some this is just too much.  One’s voice get’s louder.  They throw away politeness and no longer care about how they look.  And the hurt of dehumanization and the fear of starving, soon bears a bitter fruit.

Ahhh, now that the beggar is “loud and aggressive” we at last see him or her – only long enough to remove them from the previously peaceful space.

A theology of the bottom can understand what the bottom can do to a person. Not in a patronizing sense, but in a humanizing one, recognizing that all of us are in process. All of us are beggars with hands extended, though we may reach for different things.  

The great reformer Martin Luther’s final written words speak to this.
 “Wir sind bettler.  Hoc est verum.” “We are all beggars – this is true.”

Chaz Howard is a chaplain at UPenn. Excerpt above from this book, Bottom. More about him in this recent conversation.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that we are all beggars? Can you share a personal story of a time you became aware of what the bottom can do to a person? What helps you retain empathy when hurt?

Add Your Reflection:

12 Previous Reflections:

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    On Sep 14, 2021 Gururaj wrote:
    On closer hearing of the piece, i understood the author to imply that any feeling of want in us makes us beggars in a way. It's intriguing enough to explore whether the opposite , a feeling of being in no-want, could be a natural state...A task comes to mind , in the context of interacting with another - when a feeling of lack comes within , be generous and 'give' to the other instead of expecting something.

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    On Sep 14, 2021 Gururaj wrote:
    "...believe in the potential for redemption." ( Of me and the other )....Yes, that helps. However I wish this inspires me to actually, in-the-moment see the truth of the statement "Fear is the garden of sin" ? as it arises. Fear , and its myriad shades and variants , including hurt, it seems to me, arises from the almost instinctive need to protect "me" . Often Sin follows from this unconscious and , sometimes deliberate , psychological state In me. This seeing will create the space for a more appropriate response

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    On Sep 14, 2021 Jayne wrote:
    This reflection brought back to my mind a recent incident when I gave money to a panhandler. After I handed him the money I noticed I could feel the warmth of his hand where he had touched mine. I contemplated on that for some time after. This reflection allowed me to realize the healing I receivedin that touch. I am led to believe the next time, I will desire to hold a hand a bit firmer and longer.

    1 reply: Amy | Post Your Reply
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    On Sep 14, 2021 Patrick wrote:
    Henri Nouwen wrote often of the notion of "wounded healers", those who knowing the bottom chose to be healing presence rather than respond in anger and violence.

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    On Sep 14, 2021 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:
    Indeed we are all beggars, each one of us in some way at some time in our lives has done something out of fear or our needs not being met or wanting to belong. When we pause and ask ourselves, "what might have happened to this person to create the action taken?" We can sit in compassion rather than judgment. ♡ Since 2008 I've shared Hugs, conversations and bought lunches with homeless. Every person I met had/has a story of loss. Every person when hugged said statements like, "thank you for seeing me. " "I haven't been touched in twenty years." Imagine what that would be like.
    Before we judge or see someone as "bad" again, let us pause and ask, "what might have happened to provike this particular action?"
    Hugs from my heart to yours,
    Kristin

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    On Sep 14, 2021 Annette wrote:
    I do believe that there are evil people indeed. People who purposefully kill their children, rape and hurt the innocent, cruelly torture animals....these to me are some examples of wothless individuals and should not be given excuses for their horrible acts of torture and death. Sorry not sorry for feeling this way. I won't find excuses for the Nazis who imprisoned my father in Auschwitz and murdered his sister and mother. These are not nice people who do bad things but evil worthless scum. No wonder our country is weakened by such stupid thoughts. I have zero compassion for evil assholes.

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    On Sep 10, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    Being beggars is one way we deal with not having and not being able to get, or think we can't get, what we need or want. At such times, a person is likely feeling powerless and/or desperate. The person who is drowning, one way or another, may beg for help. He or she needs a lifesaver. When the person is safely alive is the time to learn to swim. When starving, it may be life saving to be given a fish, and then learn to fish. When being beggars, we try to get what we need or want from outside. Be a beggar only briefly. When I dropped out of a career path that was important to me, I felt at the bottom, thoroughly lost. Others helped me to not drown. The greatest gift I received and learned was to re-empower. I learned that what I needed was in me, not outside of me. Experiencing a bottom still helps me retain what I went through and what I learned and retain empathy when I or another is hurting.

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    On Sep 10, 2021 Naren Kini wrote:
    Lessons from a begging bowl Tribute to my Teachers. As I am continually learning the lesson of Sharanagati(surrender), I give everything over to my Master's/Teacher's/God's hand. Sharanagati literally means to stop fighting. Control is resistance. With acceptance we stop fighting with what is happening and instead completely accept what is present/presented. Sharanagati helps open our heart and mind to what is happening and learn from it. It is a deep faith that everything is as it should be - with or without my begging or helping hand. From humility to hold the begging bowl, to limiting expectations and yet approach with faith and confidence that the bowl shall be filled with what is meant to be is an act of Sharanagati or surrender. I have learned that control comes from a place of fear, and acceptance comes from a place of gratitude. When we can open ourselves to trust that everything is going to be okay no matter what comes into our bowl, then we release the feeling o... [View Full Comment] Lessons from a begging bowl
    Tribute to my Teachers. As I am continually learning the lesson of Sharanagati(surrender), I give everything over to my Master's/Teacher's/God's hand. Sharanagati literally means to stop fighting. Control is resistance. With acceptance we stop fighting with what is happening and instead completely accept what is present/presented.

    Sharanagati helps open our heart and mind to what is happening and learn from it. It is a deep faith that everything is as it should be - with or without my begging or helping hand. From humility to hold the begging bowl, to limiting expectations and yet approach with faith and confidence that the bowl shall be filled with what is meant to be is an act of Sharanagati or surrender.

    I have learned that control comes from a place of fear, and acceptance comes from a place of gratitude. When we can open ourselves to trust that everything is going to be okay no matter what comes into our bowl, then we release the feeling of needing to micromanage every experience. This was exactly our attitude as children when we went to learn from our teachers.

    Sharanagati to - what is.
    Clean/Let go - what was.
    Have faith in - what will be.
    May the learner in me always be as empty as the begging bowl for new learnings and in acceptance of what comes into it from my teachers. May the teacher in me always be learning.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Sep 10, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    There have been times when I have been deeply hurt. And there have been times in my life when I have hurt others too. Such experiences have made me realize that we all have the potential to hurtourselves and hurt others close to us. It does not mean we are bad or evil. We do bad or evil things. When I relate to hurt in this sense I feel empathy for me and for others. Such empathic understanding of my own wrongdoings helps me heal my wounds and the wounds I have created to others.

    Realizing and accepting the fact that we are human beings prone to doing wrong things and making mistakes. We are not perfect.I hold my wrongdoing hand with empathy and compassion. Being empathic and compassionate to me helps me for my self-redemption and also redemption for the otherperson.
    Self-awareness is the guiding light to me and it helps me evolve and grow in the realm of goodness, kindness, love and compassion.
    Namste!
    JagdishP Dave

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    On Sep 9, 2021 R wrote:
    It's a hard hitting passage. Precisely because there is so much truth to what is being said. Feel sadness and a sense of dejection. Will sit with it to see what emerges.

    1 reply: Venkhat | Post Your Reply

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