Not gifted with a particularly humble or submissive temperament, I have struggled with the concept of meekness for many years. I am writing this today to help myself, and in the hope that others will wish to join me for the ride.
Like many, I first heard about meekness as a schoolboy from the phrase, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. It is one of the nine Beatitudes (which all begin, “Blessed are…”) from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, recorded in St Matthew’s gospel (Ch 5, verses 3 to 11). How, we all wondered, can those who do not stand up for themselves, the weak and feeble, inherit anything but their own destruction? It is a conundrum worth thinking about.
The first thing to say is that no-one inherits anything for keeps. We inherit stuff and eventually, then, pass it on. Secondly, I have come to understand over the years that it takes enormous inner strength to stay meek in the face of adversity, rather than get angry or quit. Meekness means acknowledging the possibility of loss and acquiescing to it, knowing intuitively somehow that aggressive resistance would ultimately prove damaging and futile.
Of course, this still seems highly unsatisfactory - until we understand something else, something deeper; and this is conveyed in the word ‘blessed’. Blessed is sometimes taken to mean ‘joyful’ or ‘happy’, and this works; but it also means ‘helped’ or ‘assisted’. In this case, we must therefore ask, “By whom?”
There are many possible answers to this question, depending on the culture and experience of the person being asked. I have taught medical students to ask patients, “What helps you most when things are difficult?”, and, “Where do you get inner strength, courage and hope from when things begin to look bad?” Some, without hesitation reply, “From God”, or, “From my faith”, but many others draw strength and inspiration from the love and support of family, friends and community, or from some kind of non-religious, perhaps humanistic, grasp of even-handed destiny and an ultimately benevolent universe.
All of these folk may be called ‘blessed’, because they experience something greater than themselves touching them meaningfully deep within, at their core (in their souls), guiding them, and helping them cope with life’s ups and downs, from all the minor vicissitudes to the greatest of tragedies, and everything in between.
This is what I call ‘spiritual awareness’; and sometimes this lies dormant in a person until they face hardship, threats and losses. Sure enough, however, accident, trauma, illness, ageing and death will affect each one of us in some way from time to time. Those who are spiritually aware and spiritually sustained will be better prepared. Those who are not will still be hanging tenaceously on to what they have; to people, possessions, wealth, power and status, even to their prized physical and mental faculties; and in so doing will, desperately or defiantly, be inhabiting a shrinking world of their own devising.
Those who are blessed with spiritual awareness; confident that when the need arises, they will discover within themselves the strength they need; will feel safer, more content, and freer to let go and live out their years. Relatively unencumbered by doubt, fear or anger, they will have much broader horizons. Meek, accepting and humble, but strong - and joyful - the whole world will, for a time, be theirs; and they shall indeed, for their allotted span, have inherited the earth.
Copyright Larry Culliford
Larry’s books include ‘The Psychology of Spirituality’, ‘Love, Healing & Happiness’ and (as Patrick Whiteside) ‘The Little Book of Happiness’ and ‘Happiness: The 30 Day Guide’ (personally endorsed by HH The Dalai Lama).