“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:3 NLT)
The song “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” appears on Sufjan Stevens’s 2005 album Illinois. On the track, Stevens sings about both the life and crimes of the serial killer, crimes that included murdering more than two dozen young men. It is a haunting song, especially given the last lyric, which reads, “And in my best behavior, I am really just like him / Look beneath the floor boards for the secrets I have hid.” Stevens, whose Christian faith influences much of his work, has said that the core of this song is about how all of us are capable of doing the same vile deeds as Gacy.
Matthew 5:3 is one of the few places in the Bible where the Gospel is summarized in a single verse. There are pieces missing, of course, but the essential bits are there: those who see the disparity between the world as it is and the world as it was intended to be, and acknowledge Jesus as the one who bridges that gap, are welcomed into God’s Kingdom.
To be poor in spirit, then, is to recognize our need for God, not just in the hereafter but in the everyday, normal, walking-about of our lives. It is a constant acknowledgement that every moment we have the capacity to be just like John Wayne Gacy Jr., and even worse. It is also the constant inviting of God into the crevices of our lives, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts, words, and actions. For centuries, many followers of Jesus have sought to live within this sense of need in every moment by practicing breath prayers, praying a few words on each inhale and a few on each exhale. One of the most common breath prayers is, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Whether you use this prayer or another, try to live today within an understanding of the poverty of your spirit and the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven within grasp through Christ by praying with every breath you take.