Probably the most difficult of the Beatitudes to understand is the second one -- "Blessed are they that mourn." The others we can grasp more easily. The humble, the cooperative, the merciful, the peacemakers, those who seek righteousness above all else, those who are pure in heart -- it is easy to see why they might be called "blessed" (which is just another word for fortunate). They are the kind of people who will achieve that quality in their own lives called "of the Kingdom of Heaven"; they will find the Way to God. But those that mourn, those who are suffering or touched by grief, is there any reason to call them fortunate? Why should they more than others find that deep, rich spiritual life of which Jesus spoke?
In his play As You Like It, Shakespeare makes one of his characters say, "Sweet are the uses of adversity." This is spoken by the banished Duke who has been exiled by an unscrupulous brother and forced to take refuge in the Forest of Arden. There the Duke and his friends have been obliged to live like a band of outlaws. But the Duke does not regret this change of circumstance; he finds his new life better than the old and rejoices that conditions which seemed bitter have caused him to take up the simple life of the forest, far from the intrigues and sham of the court. Here, in the unspoiled life of the woodlands, he finds "tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything."
But when we are struck by misfortune, we cannot simply flee to an idyllic life. We have to stay right where we are in our bitter surroundings and battle through them. It is all very well to escape in imagination to some fairy forest and announce "Sweet are the uses of adversity." It is another thing to feel it while we are in the midst of our problems. But that is the test of character.
No life is ever completely free from trouble, though some people seem to have more than their share of it. Sickness, grief, and death strike every family. Financial loss hits many a home. Carefully laid plans go awry, and the most cherished hopes are often doomed to disappointment. Parents who are building their family are stunned by the loss of a child. A person who is stricken by an incurable disease has to find the faith and courage to go on. Sometimes life falls all to pieces, and we have to pick up and start building all over again. At such times as these it takes all a person has in him to go on and make life victorious. These test the quality of a human being.
Life is a mixture of sunshine and shadow. We have our days of gladness when we can wander through green pastures and rest beside the still waters; and we are thankful for every one of them. We also have days when the rain pours down upon us, and we have to find our way through the storm. We would not have it otherwise: it is the dark days that reveal the full power of the human soul. And the world is enriched by the spirit of those who have gone through the battle and won.
The simple fact is that trouble helps us to grow, for if life were always easy, we should all be spiritual jellyfish. Tragedy has a way of tempering us. As crude iron becomes steel only when it is passed through the white heat of the refinery, so we become truly human only by passing through the white heat of adversity. The individual who has resolute courage and unconquerable faith is usually not the one whose life has been easy, but the one who has gone through "the dark night of the soul" and overcome the darkness.
"Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." I should like to add another thought: "for they shall be comforters." The person who is best able to give comfort to others is the one who has gone through suffering himself, and therefore can understand the sorrow of his neighbors because it has been his own. The one to give faith to others is he who has wrestled with affliction and built a faith for himself. There is a tenderness, a gentleness, an understanding, that is born of travail; often those of the kindliest spirit are they who have suffered the most deeply. Sometimes, however, you find someone who has been struck by sorrow and completely crushed under it; in that case he has become part of the world's problems, not part of the answer. Where you find a person with a valiant spirit, he or she is usually one who has gone through real trouble and overcome it. Thus the world is immeasurably blessed by those who have mourned and yet have risen through and above their tragedies; they are able to give to others a richer quality of sympathy and love.
When the Master said, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted," perhaps he was not thinking so much of human help -- great though that is; rather he was thinking of the help that comes from God. That is what I feel this Beatitude means. The man who has found God to be living in him as a close companion, always present in time of need, knows the comfort of which Jesus was speaking. Anyone can visualize the Divinity as a generous Father in times of joy; but only the person who has discovered inner strength through sorrow really knows what rich treasures of fortitude and compassion lie within.
There is no struggle out of which some good cannot come, even when we cannot understand the reason for what has happened or cannot see the way. Therefore we should accept life as it is and try to make all we can of it, particularly to see how much we can give of ourselves to others. Out of our seeming ill-fortunes we grow richer in spirit, stronger in faith and courage, deeper in sympathy and love. It is thus that we turn adversity into victory and find that peace "which passeth understanding, and which the world can neither give nor take away."
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2000; copyright © 2000 Theosophical University Press)