Suzy is an ordained Interspiritual Priest with the UAIC-Not Your Grandma's Church! She holds an M.Div. from Claremont School of Theology.
Where We’ve Been So Far
We’ve been talking about what it means to be a Spiritual Warrior, and how to be one. We defined a Spiritual Warrior as one who has the strength to know who they are, what they stand for, where they are called, and how they are going to get there. As a guide to becoming a Spiritual Warrior, I chose Jesus’ list of the blessed from his Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew because it can be seen as a plan for becoming a Spiritual Warrior. In our previous discussion, the focus was on those who mourn. We looked at how when we come into the dark places of mourning, loss, sadness, or loneliness, we are in a wilderness place, where the comfort given to us by others is a gift. When we have an opportunity to give comfort to others, we draw on our own experiences and give them strength. The ability to be present for others in their times of loss and to allow others to be there for us in ours is an attribute of a Spiritual Warrior.
Blessed are the Meek…
In this part, we address “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” This is an interesting one, partly because like many words, the word “meek” has a number of meanings. Think about how you define the word, “meek.” In discussion with others, I’ve found that many people have a general understanding of the word to mean “a person who is easily abused, pushed around; A wimp.”
Now, let me share the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of “meek.”
- enduring injury with patience and without resentment: mild
- deficient in spirit and courage: submissive
- not violent or strong: moderate
The dictionary offers these synonyms: demure, down-to-earth, lowly, humble, modest, unassuming, unpretentious
Of the three definitions I just read, which do you think he meant?
Remember that while Jesus spoke in Aramaic, his words were recorded much later in Greek. The Greek word that has been translated into English as “meek” is πραΰς, praos, an adjective which according to Strong’s Concordance means “gentle.” In the Interlinear Greek English New Testament (KJV), George Ricker Berry provides the noun form of the same word, πραΰτης prautes which can be translated as “gentleness.” According to Berry, this word is founded on the idea of humility, but goes beyond it. He explains it as an attitude of both mind and behavior. Those who possess this attitude will take whatever happens with “gentleness and meekness.” Though this is a passive word for gentleness or meekness, Berry goes on to say that this is not about one’s attitude to oneself, but about how one responds to the way others act, whether that behavior is bad or good. Aristotle wrote that prautes denotes a person who is moved to anger only at the right time and never when it is inappropriate. There is strength in this word. To be meek is not to be weak. It is, in fact, to be strong enough to endure the bad behavior of others with restraint. Not to be a ”doormat,” but to wait for the right time to respond. It means to have the strength to keep anger under control until the right time and situation to use that anger to make changes.
It seems, then, that it is most likely that the first dictionary definition above, “enduring injury with patience and without resentment,” fits much more than the others. Sadly, it seems as though most people have come to understand it as meaning the second one; that is, “submissive.” Yet, Jesus was telling his followers to be like him, and Jesus himself was far from submissive. In his life, he stood strong against an oppressive occupying empire. He taught non-violence against a violent government. There is no doubt that Jesus became angry, yet he most often walked away from conflict. He saved his anger for the important issues. We see an example of his anger in the story of his turning over the tables outside the temple (Matthew 21:12). To be meek is to contain within oneself both serenity and power. It is the ability not to be controlled by one’s emotions, but to control emotions until it is reasonable and useful to reveal them.
…For They Shall Inherit the Earth
True meekness is an important part of our “armor of Light.” When we have gained the strength to control our emotions, we are on the way to becoming Spiritual Warriors.
What does it mean, then, to “inherit the earth?” I have read and heard many folks claim that this is in reference to attaining heaven in the afterlife. This makes little sense to me, with the understanding that the Greek used, γῆν, translates to “soil, region, land” according to Strong’s. I believe we can look at this phrase and see a number of meanings, but two stand out to me as purposes for those who have clothed themselves in meekness.
The first is within the specific frame of reference from which Jesus spoke when he addressed the folks on the hill that day. These are people whose homeland has been occupied by foreign invaders. There are active militants fighting against Roman oppression, and the people are hoping for a strong warrior messiah to lead them into freedom. I believe Jesus was telling them to gird themselves with courage, to hold back their anger, and to use it to speak out against the powers that kept them down. This is a call not only to fight against Rome, but also against those among them who had “sold out” to the Romans, including a religious leadership that focused on the specifics of law to the point where the humanity of the people was ignored. Focusing on the letter of the law can be a distraction from the real work of spirituality as well as a tool to be used by the oppressor to control the people. I believe Jesus is calling them to fight, but not a fight of offense. He was calling them to a fight of defense and a war of voices. Gird yourself with the courage to hold back until you are strong enough to speak out. When you do, make it count. Take back control of your lives and the lives of your neighbors.
The second meaning I see here is in our own frame of reference on a scorched earth that suffers at the hands of humanity. The earth has been raped by commerce and greed, and though we are now aware of this, it still goes on. There is much blame that can be laid at the feet of religious leadership across the ages, who have, at least since the King James Version of the Bible was published, declared humanity to have “dominion” over the earth without respect for her. It was not just individual humans, but companies and churches that explored the globe, planted flags, and ravaged indigenous peoples. Manifest Destiny is responsible for the decimation of the North American indigenous cultures and is responsible for the continued devastation of the land, not only in North America, but around the world. We are part of the problem because we are complicit, but most of us are not the problem. Many have been speaking out since we first became aware. Many work against the killing of the planet through violence. I believe that in this context, we are being guided to focus our anger against those who would continue to do things as they have always done in spite of the danger they bring to the environment. We are to gird ourselves in meekness in order to bring our righteous anger to the fore in order to save the planet. We will be called to support changes that may be uncomfortable as the world shifts to new resources. We will be needed to take part in shifting attitudes and behaviors. Those of us who make it a priority will become models of behavior for those who struggle with the changes to come, especially as things become worse. Those who walk in strength and courage will be the ones who inherit a healthy earth, for they are the ones who will make it so.
Purpose of a Spiritual Life
The Hindu Baghavad Gita says, in verse 4.33, that “Acquiring transcendental knowledge is superior to any material sacrifice, such as giving charity. Because, purification of mind and intellect that eventually leads to the dawn of transcendental knowledge and Self-realization is the sole purpose of any spiritual action.” Jesus agreed that seeking knowledge was a greater pursuit when he said that Mary, who sat at his feet to learn, had taken the better part over Martha, who was overly concerned about preparations for dinner and housework (Luke 10:38-42; John 12:2).
Neither of these teachings takes away the importance of action. Giving charitably and providing hospitality are both important, but what is more important is that we apply all that we do, including giving, helping others, doing our work at home and places of employment toward what John Wesley called “Perfection.” We must live in a way that helps us come closer to who we are meant to be, who we are called to be. In fact, the closer we come to enlightenment, perhaps the stronger and more desirous we are to do what is needed, and to understanding exactly what is right. This is not about a list of rules. It’s about the attitude with which we perform our duties as humans and how we interact with one another.
“Perfection” can be seen as the same as what New Thought Spirituality calls “Christhood,” the Buddhists call “Buddhahood,” or “Enlightenment,” and others call “One-ness.” This is what we seek as spiritual beings. As we seek to align with the Divine, we must be humble, and we must be strong. To be like Christ, finding the strength to remain calm in the most challenging of times, means we learn to observe our surroundings, assess our situation, and restrain ourselves from letting go of our emotions when it is not appropriate. That way, when we do let go of them, it really means something. This is a way of being what the Buddhists call “mindful.” This is how we become Spiritual Warriors.
If we have learned to be mindful of what is happening around us, we will know when it is time to allow ourselves to use our emotions as tools to make changes for good. The anger that Jesus reveals in the scriptures is what we call “righteous anger.” He becomes angry when people are being exploited, when the people are being oppressed, when leaders manipulate the people and make a show of their own perceived superiority. He allows his anger to show when he can make a point to both the oppressed and the oppressors. In the meantime, he lives humbly, meekly, and lovingly. This is who he is guiding his students to become. He speaks not only to those who choose to follow him, but also to the others who hear him. He speaks to all of us.
When do you find it difficult to withhold emotion?
What situations do you see where you might be stronger if you held back?
Besides the current environmental situation addressed above, what issues make you angry enough to channel that energy toward change?
© 2022 Suzy Jacobson Cherry