Saturday, April 25, 20201.
A famous man once said that meekness in a person is a blessed thing, and I think I’m finally starting to see his meaning. It now seems clear to me that meekness can be a strength instead of a deficiency. In meekness, surprisingly, we sometimes stand up stronger than in assertiveness. When we surrender, we sometimes win. Trees that survive are those that submit to strong winds instead of resisting them, and water almost always wins because it yields itself softly to obstructions. Meekness means a brave kind of obedience. Streams are obedient to boulders and thus flow effortlessly around them. Flowers are obedient to breezes and bow with ease and elegance. I am obedient to my heart and lungs and let them lead the way. In meekness we are mild in a daring way, gentle in just the way the strongest trees are.
It may seem strange to say that the solid rock cliff behind this house is ‘meek’,
but this cliff, after all, has meekly surrendered to winds and rain and sunlight and plants for thousands of years. It has simply sat silent and still, exactly where it is, while the world of nature whirled around it, doing anything it wished to this graciously submissive rock. This old cliff has been the model of meek obedience, and its spirit of acquiescence – its peaceful docility – is what has enabled it to stay strong for millennia. It’s a rock, we might say, of long-lasting, lamblike strength.
+ + + + +
Late in my career as a teacher, I came to believe that meekness is one of the most important qualities in a good teacher. This was contrary to what I believed when I was younger, having been raised in a culture in which bravado and machismo, at least for guys, were rated far higher than humility and gentleness. I grew up believing that a teacher must be strong, authoritative, and demanding, all of which seemed to cancel out any possibility of meekness. Back then, I thought of meekness as synonymous with weakness, and there was no room for weakness in my image of the master teacher. As time passed, however, I began considering meekness in a different way, as more closely associated with strength than weakness. The word derives from a Latin root meaning “soft”, and I gradually began to realize that many soft things are actually exceedingly strong. In fact, their strength is created by their softness. Think of water, air, and sunlight: because they are entirely soft and resilient, it is hard to imagine how they could be injured. Their softness is their strength. On the other hand, rock-hard things, including rock-hard teachers, are often rather easy to chip and damage and scar. So I worked hard, in my last 15 years as a teacher, on becoming a softer teacher, one who gains strength through meekness. Like water and sunlight and air, I wanted to yield and ebb and flow and recede and go around and settle. This is the opposite of hardness and rigidity, and I do think it made me a stronger teacher than I had ever been.