In Words from the Hill: An Invitation to the Unexpected, author, Stu Garrad, invites the reader to move in just a little closer as if we were in the crowd on the mount near the Sea of Galilee as Jesus gives His famous teaching that includes the Beatitudes. He sets the stage reminding us to go back in time when there would have been no screens to read from, no amplifiers to make sure even the back row could hear well, no devices to make notes on, and no band to warm everyone up for what was to be taught. Then he tells us to really listen and asks, “What does it mean to listen?
One-by-one through eight chapters Stu revisits each of the Beatitudes and asks us to listen and look at them with fresh eyes and apply them to our own hearts today to delve into the rich meaning of each one.
To those who are poor in spirit, whether poor materially or deep in their soul, and crushed in their spirit, the author reminds us God is on our side. There are no requirements and nothing to attain. He also challenges the reader to recognize his or her own poverty and shares the stories of some who best illustrate what it means to be poor in spirit. He reminds us that sometimes we need to ask the seemingly unanswerable questions before we can be ready for the answers and in the midst of this famous sermon discover the key to making sense of life.
The author reminds us that when we mourn, we need to remember this is really God’s story we are living in the midst of. It is a story of one who hears the cry of the victim, the hurting, and the broken. He hears the blood of Abel crying from the ground and He hears the “outcry” that had reached Him from Sodom and Gomorrah. He also hears the groans of the Israelites in misery and slavery and reminds us that throughout the story of scripture, God hears the cry of those who mourn and draws near.
The word meek is not used much in modern language, but the author reminds us that it refers to those whose presence is constantly denied or ignored as He speaks of the third Beatitude. They are those who are not just powerless, but those for whom power has never been an option. The meek include those who have been marginalized and displaced and he invites us into a personal glimpse of some of their lives.
In a world where some have so little and some have no lack, what does it mean to hunger and thirst after righteousness? Stu tells us:
“When Jesus’ early listeners heard his words about hungering and thirsting for righteousness, they would have understood that Jesus meant doing the right thing regardless of the circumstances, and having a disposition toward justice no matter the cost.” After all, the mishmash of people sitting on the hill had experienced the crushing and breaking of their world by the power of Rome and they were living in the midst of the occupation.
As the author continues to the Beatitude on mercy, he nudges the reader again to be sure he or she is hearing him by telling us that these Beatitudes are not about doing or serving to attain any kind of blessing or recognition, but rather they are about being. He says, “It’s what we become by accepting the invitation to join God in the work He is already doing, and being where He is. By showing mercy.”
To look at what it means to be pure in heart, Stu reminds us that we can too often live with divided hearts. There is the self everyone sees and we talk about on Facebook and the self we seek to keep hidden within hoping no one will ever see. To be pure in heart means we must bring our shadows into the light to begin to put our hearts back together. Then we are congruent and we can more easily attend to God’s voice and the voices of those around us.
The author challenges us to consider what it means to truly be a peacemaker or to be persecuted. In both chapters, he gives examples from his own lived experience as well as from the vantage points of others as he has traveled throughout the world.
Stu Garrad, best known as the guitarist for the British band Delirious?, lays down his guitar and picks up his pen to once again move in closer to the Words from the Hill and to recognize afresh that God is on our side.
To comply with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review.