I have recently heard some comments about the necessity to have a “meek heart” in the spiritual life, and it reminded me of Jesus’ beatitude: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” This has always been kind of problematic for us, mainly because meekness is not considered a positive thing in our culture. We think it means cowardly and pathetic; a proverbial “doormat.” Frankly, meek people make us sick.
That’s why I usually use “gentle” instead. The Greek word (praeis) means something more like humble, easy-going, patient, unflappable, accepting, and equable. I suggest that the word has to do with approaching and receiving the world with an open-hearted wonder at the way things are and a willingness to leave them that way. It is to live non-violently, without imposing our agenda of using, changing, knowing, or taking. It is close to what Eckhart has in mind with the German term, Gelassenheit, which means letting things be.
This is really important. Once we get past the negative connotations of “meek,” we must embrace towards all of creation an attitude of wonder, love, and non-interference. We could also call it gratitude. Paul talks somewhere about being thankful in all circumstances. I suspect it is this kind of acceptance and appreciation that Jesus means when he says “blessed are the meek.” He’s not saying blessed are the doormats; rather, he means blessed are those who accept others as they are, and who even identify with, respect, cherish, celebrate, and give thanks for others in all their difference. Without judging or much less condemning; without trying to define, change, use, or otherwise objectify another.
A long time ago I was in a philosophy class and the professor made a very simple observation: In order to dissect something we have to kill it. Then what we know is this dead thing; but the cost is that we do not know the living thing. In order to know a living thing we have to live with it, letting it be itself, listening to it, and letting it touch us. In other words, real knowledge is non-violence, openness, wonder, and gratitude.
Truth is not known objectively but relationally.
When the Lord talks about the “meek,” I think he means those who enter into mutual, reciprocal, even and equal relationships with others. He means people who living together in community without domination or manipulation, without some imposed purpose or arbitrary order.
This is clearly the way Jesus himself acted. He saw, loved, and accepted people as they were. He ministered to human needs without judgment. He received and welcomed all, from the rejects and outcasts, to his own enemies and critics. He did not attempt to convert, change, use, or even cater to anyone.
The irony here is that this kind of acceptance and welcome and gratitude are actually far more powerful and effective means of transformation than are coercion, threats, or violence. Just coming into meaningful contact with Jesus changed people; he drew out people’s best selves. The many stories of healing bear witness to this. In the same way, I wonder if our own attitudes of openness and receptivity, welcome and thanksgiving can serve to bring about changes in others. These would not be according to our self-serving agendas, of course; but helping people become more of their true selves in God’s sight.
Our culture, which is based on the violent and manipulative way of knowing by domination and dissection, has filled with world with technically useful but actually dead things and people. We all know what it is like to be used, manipulated, abused, taken-apart, and treated like an object or a number. We are busy turning the whole planet into a wasted, depleted, degraded rock, and exhausting human labor, all so a few powerful people can be more comfortable, for a time.
Maybe we would have a better understanding of how life really works if we were to stop grabbing and extracting what we want, and began leaving things as God made them and saying thank you. That was Jesus’ whole lifestyle.
Now, violence is just a part of our existence. Just cutting, cooking, chewing, and digesting a piece of broccoli involves a certain amount of violence. It is practically unavoidable. But we can live with circumspection and gratitude all the time, even giving thanks and asking forgiveness for the violence in which we must participate simply to live. And doing no more than absolutely necessary.
What Jesus teaches here is that when we are born into God’s creation we emerge into an infinite network of relationships. And when everyone is respected, welcomed, listened to, loved, and served, we all benefit. That is a brief description of the Kingdom of God. Those who live this way, Jesus promises, inherit the earth.