For the past three Wednesday evenings, I have been leading discussions on my book Meditations on theBeatitudes: Lessons from the Margins at Ridgeway Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Va. It has been a challenge, not only to review what I wrote years ago, but also to revisit these incredibly pithy and challenging sayings from Jesus the Christ.
It is no wonder that some Christians, especially those linked to Christendom (union of empire and church), place these sayings in some future idealistic age. They are far too countercultural for us to live in our time and place. I believe, however, that Jesus meant what he said, and he meant it for us today. So we struggle with swimming against the current of our surrounding culture as we try to embody the beatitudes.
What does it mean to be meek? The opposite of meek is arrogant. In our culture it seems to be much easier to find someone who is arrogant than someone who is meek. Webster defines someone who is meek as “bearing difficulties or injuries with patience and humility.” Too many of us bear difficulties with resentment and bitterness. To be meek is a difficult, seemingly inhuman trait.
It seems to me that there are people who are forced to be meek because of their circumstances. People who are held down and oppressed with little hope of improving their conditions. In my book I write of such a person—doña Josefina.
Josefina kept repeating to me, “No soy nada” (I am nothing; a nobody). “Being a woman, she was near the bottom of the social ladder in her culture. Being a woman who couldn’t bear children forced her even lower down the ladder. Then, to make matters worse, being a woman deserted by her husband because of barrenness landed her only a few rungs above prostitutes and other lowlifes.”
Yet, in spite of her self-assessment, she bore her injustice with patience and humility, and carried herself with a sense of dignity. For me she embodied what Jesus meant to be meek. She could have chosen to be bitter and resentful about her circumstances, but she chose to bear them with patience and humility.
Most of us in middle class US or Canada are not forced to be meek because of our social circumstance. Some of us are forced to be meek because of illness, death or injury to ourselves or to a loved-one. Many of these circumstances are transitory, however, so how do we become meek during ordinary times?
Contemplative prayer is one way. Richard Rohr, in his daily meditation says it well: “in the practice of contemplative prayer [ . . . ] we will naturally become much more compassionate and patient.” Compassion and patience are traits of the humble and the meek. Too few of us in the hustle and bustle of our times take time out for contemplative prayer.
Another writer, Kerry Walters whom I quote in my book, says that through silence (contemplation) we can learn to “tame the savage beast” of pride, arrogance and other non-meek traits within us. That squares with Rohr’s assessment in his meditation. “Only such a new person [meek person] can take on the social illnesses of one’s time, and even the betrayal of friends, and not be destroyed by cynicism or bitterness.”
Cynicism and bitterness are plagues of our time in the US and Canada. They are not qualities of meekness. My own journey took me through a period of cynicism, and I was only able to “tame the beast” with arduous inner work, including contemplation. I write more extensively on this journey in chapter one of my forth-coming book, The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Matt. 5:5
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