Recently, while reading through the book of Matthew with my children, I paused at the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-10). I knew the words Jesus spoke from the mountainside are pivotal to the gospel message. I paused because I didn’t know how to explain their meaning to my children. I paused because I didn’t fully understand them myself. So, when presented with an opportunity to review Stu Garrard’s book on the Beatitudes, Words from the Hill: An Invitation to the Unexpected, I replied with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
After reading a few pages of Words from the Hill, I was captivated by the depth of thought and the compelling stories surrounding Jesus’s paradoxical announcement.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3-10, NIV)
Stu Garrard doesn’t use his eight chapters on these eight lines to tell us what the Beatitudes mean. Instead, he wonders about their meaning and implication alongside the reader. Words from the Hill feels more like an invitation to join Garrard on his discovery journey than an expository review of the familiar passage. Garrard asks us to listen with fresh ears and consider that we might not really know what the Beatitudes are about. As a life-long Bible reader, I found his look at the age-old sermon both refreshing and inspiring.
Garrard is honest about his own personal struggle with the Beatitudes. I found kinship through his candid writing style. I realized I didn’t really, truly know what the Beatitudes meant or how the sermon should affect the way I live my life.
What I have come to understand about the Beatitudes is that they are predominantly blessings of God’s presence for people in bad situations, and not a list of spiritual virtues to attain–like we’ve talked about before, they’re about being, not doing. (Stu Garrard, Words from the Hill)
Words from the Hill uses stories from all walks of life, of those Jesus would consider blessed, to engage readers in the real-life manifestation of the Beatitudes. Stories of political refugees, humanitarian workers, a woman on death row, and priests on the frontline of the battle against injustice bring living color to the words written in black and white. Garrard reminds us that these are not super-human examples we could never aspire to follow. These are normal people who decided to live what they say they believe, no matter the cost. True to Jesus’s words, they found comfort, mercy, fulfillment, and the presence of God in the midst of their difficult circumstances. In each chapter, Garrard gives practical examples of ways we can begin to live a blessed life.
A number of theologians have said that the Beatitudes are the pinnacle and summary of all of Jesus’ teaching and what it means to follow him as a disciple. They provide a way or a path to follow that anyone can live at any time, in any circumstance, and in any culture. (Stu Garrard, Words from the Hill)
I appreciate the way hard circumstances aren’t easily explained away. Garrard never discredits anyone’s pain. Instead, he offers encouragement through Jesus’s words. He reminds those in the midst of sorrow and pain that God is present and very much on our side. Because of the hope embodied in the Beatitudes, Words from the Hill is for the person of faith who wants to go deeper and the person struggling to hold onto their faith under the heavy weight of life.
After I finished reading Words from the Hill, I didn’t have a list of things to do in order to be “blessed.” Instead, I have a better sense of what it means to feel God’s presence in any and all circumstance. I feel empowered to share the gospel and fight for justice. My eyes are better able see the marginalized and forgotten. Jesus’s words from the hill give me a deeper connection to the body of Christ and our common call to love God and love people.
Author Stu Garrard is best known as Stu G, the guitarist fo the British band Delirious? Words from the Hill is one piece of the larger The Beatitudes Project–an experience of songs, film, and stories inspired by the announcements known as the Beatitudes. Words from the Hill is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million (BAM!), and Christian Book.