Oct. 11 — Satisfaction

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones says that his hit song, “Satisfaction” came to him in the middle of the night, and that he woke up and recorded the riff and the words on his bedside recorder and fell back to sleep.  He later described the tape as: “two minutes of ‘Satisfaction’ and 40 minutes of me snoring.”

I thought of his song as I was working on this beatitude.  The song popped into my head because there’s a curious point of fact about our beatitude today.  While it follows the usual format of a beatitude it ends on a different note –the note of satisfaction.  This note is so different, that that word, “satisfied” occurs no where else in the entire New Testament except in the beatitudes and its parallels.

That’s interesting.  One should always perk up a bit in any kind of literary study, when you come across a singular word, or singular idea.  The New Testament — which contain some of the earliest testimony to Jesus and to the difference Jesus made in people’s lives was never described as satisfying.  This is a different record than the one we experience now, when we judge a worship experience as deeply satisfying, unsatisfying or something in between.  Satisfaction just was not part of the evaluation of people’s experience of Jesus.  His call was instead the life-risking call for one’s whole self to his vision of peace.

What then do we make of this beatitude which claims satisfaction for a certain kind of human being? Here Keith Richard’s song is helpful.  You’ll recall, that while his song is titled “Satisfaction,” the line that goes with the riff is the one that we all know — it contains that famous double negative — “I can’t get no satisfaction.”  The lyrics of the song are both a protest at the obscuring of life’s satisfaction by rampant commercialism and materialism and a hint at the resolution of the double negative as having to do with understanding the human condition — we are not satisfied but for our sense that, in the midst of our predicament,  a good way of resolution lies at hand.   If the line were simply negative and not a double negative, we would be left with cynicism and despair.  But Richards offers a hope based on a grounded, reflective understanding of the human predicament.

When I’m drivin’ in my car
And a man comes on the radio
Who’s telling me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
I can’t get no . . .  satisfaction

This is not a song, nor is it a beatitude, about being satisfied by having our material or physical needs met.  The double negative is there because in it’s resolution we are led to see that satisfaction is a fleeting thing, a part of a process, meaning that as soon as you think you have it, you can be sure you don’t. This is about satisfaction as seeing beyond ourselves, as  seeing that more is called of us than to be spectators in the game of life, tossed to and fro by wildly swinging emotions which more and more seem to be at the beck and whim of advertisers and their things.  Instead, as all of the other beatitudes we’ve looked at, this one seeks to get us to think about our lives in process,  a process which insofar as it seeks satisfaction in the things that do not not give satisfaction is good and ethical.

Physical hunger and physical thirst are clearly understood by Jesus to be deplorable conditions about which we ought to be involved in doing something.  But Jesus here turns hunger and thirst into a metaphor for the kind of life we would do best to live.  If physical hunger and physical thirst is the result of social injustice, then to hunger and thirst for righteousness is the beginning of a way out of it.  Social conditions which lead to unjust situations will only become resolved in favor of the good will when individuals hunger and thirst to organize themselves and their communities to do so.  The point the Sermon on the Mount wants to make over and over again, is that this hunger is the” fruit of insight into the human condition.  The good life, as Socrates famously noted, is the reflective life, a life which has learned to view the the human condition as unrighteous, even while burning with desire to right the wrong.

The interesting thing about this line of reflection is that it implies that the Sermon on the Mount does not separate the personal from the social.  The goal of the human individual could be put any number of ways — but in this context we could say that it to be satisfied, or to be fulfilled.  The goal of a society is to let justice flow down like everlasting streams.  The goal of each do not make sense apart from the goal of the other.  They are inextricable.

I suppose you heard on the weekend’s news the variety of pundits commenting on our President receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.  I must say that I was taken aback by the cynicism and desperate negativity I generally heard.  Over and over again, people complained that the prize was political, that it did not mean anything, that it was all a joke, that the peace prize no longer means anything, that he was given the prize just for not being the last president.  I was embarrassed for our  country that we could not recognize the nuance in the moment and the importance of a commitment to peace through negotiation and through agreement upon principles that the majority of reasonable people around the world agree make for a good life.

When Keith Richards wrote” Satisfaction,” many critics were offended by the song.  Apparently completely missing the point that the longing for a deep and real human relationship, is different than “two minutes of satisfaction and 40 minutes of snoring,”  these critics focused on the sex, thereby avoiding thinking about the deeper issues of abiding human relationships in fast-food, fast-car world.  Perhaps the offense has really to do, as I suspect the offense over the peace prize has to do, with the long-term vision.  For those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the hungering and the thirsting is not a sign that they are somehow above the reasons for injustice or for war –but a real hungering despite those things, to seek after righteousness, which as we have seen, is the great vision of  the beloved community.   The Hebrew word which we translate “righteousness, ” means to convey the character of God’s activity which shall stand for all humanity as the norm of our conduct.   The one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, despite threats and realities, seeks to measure himself or herself by a standard which, if we were to all measure ourselves by, conditions for justice would prevail.

I suspect that the reason the Nobel Peace prize committee awarded our President this prize at this time, has to do with their sense that this is no game for him.  That the desire for justice, for dialogue with the other, even the enemy, for mutual regard and counsel,  do not for him, conflict with his sense of self — that even in the midst of war — the promise of an olive branch holds more glory than a victorious battle.  The committee recognizes in awarding the prize that we’re not talking about illusions here — we’re not talking about peace as a pretense.  We’re talking about peace as the hard work of, as the committee put it, for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

Despite the political principal of unintended consequences, there is a certain wisdom over which we should take the time to ponder, in the Nobel Committee’s offering of the award to this President.  And that may simply be the wisdom, again, of Jesus, who warned us that the keeping up of the desire  for righteousness is so difficult that it requires a person’s total commitment.  It will take no less than the love of God, with your whole heart, and all your soul, and all your strength.”  And that in his failings at making peace, lie our failings too, and that his prospects for success, depend upon the commitment of our whole heart and soul and strength.  The making of peace is not a for one person to somehow at some moment achieve on his or her own.  But it is a continual, renewal of one’s total self to the reality of the present, and the dream for the future.

In the journey, lies the fulfillment of the promise of satisfaction.  Amen.

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