Meekness and the ‘elephant walk’
Today’s column considers where true strength lies.
One summer Sunday at dusk a number of years ago, my wife Judi and I were walking back to our downtown hotel from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The shadows were deepening. We were alone except for a noisy group of men clustered about a park bench at the next corner. As we approached, we saw they were vagrants sharing a bottle in a brown paper bag. They were loudly arguing over who was the toughest among them.
Judi’s hand squeezed mine. I was suddenly aware of how meek, how vulnerable I must have looked in my walking shorts and flowered shirt. A man on the park bench pointed at me. In a mocking tone he told one of the other men in the group, “If you’re so tough, let’s see you beat up this guy!” The challenged man turned, his lips curled in anger. He took a step toward me.
My response was meek, but it wasn’t vulnerable. The idea “God is Love!” flooded my thought like a mental shout, calming my fear, and it was followed by the recognition, gained from my study of Christian Science, that God is the only real power. I looked at the man directly and smiled, striving to see him as I knew God saw him, not as an angry drunk with a raised fist, but as the spiritual child of God, created to express goodness.
As I saw him in this spiritual light, the man’s face softened. He stepped back to let us pass, making a theatrical bow. As we walked by, I was tempted to look back to see if we were being followed. But the thought quickly came that there was nothing to fear, and that proved to be so.
I had learned about the might of meekness over a period of many years. When I was a boy, Christ Jesus’ promise about the meek inheriting the earth (see Matthew 5:5) seemed dumb to me. The way I saw it, the strong and bold had all the power.
Turn the other cheek? In the world I knew, meekness wouldn’t help you survive, much less succeed. The schoolyard bullies who tried to take my bike or lunch money certainly weren’t meek. So I began lifting weights in the garage, determined that no one would kick sand in my face.
But step by step I came to see that real strength isn’t in muscles or aggressive behavior. I like to think of elephants, which are powerful and yet are known as the “gentle giants” of the jungle. The placid pachyderms have no natural enemies.
The Bible teaches there is strength and comfort in meekness. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). The Bible contains plenty of examples of protection from harm and deliverance from disease as well as lack. King David wrote: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalms 27:1). Jesus demonstrated God’s power in many ways. At his word, storms subsided, food became plentiful, and there were spectacular healings. Yet this most powerful of men was so meek; he never harmed anyone.
This points to a different way of looking at real strength – not as based in physical brawn, but as spiritual. Each of us inherently has this spiritual strength because we are the children of God reflecting the limitless power of God, divine Love, who is all good. In her seminal text, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, said: “Man is idea, the image, of Love; he is not physique” (p. 475). “Man” here refers to everyone. Whether we are male or female, divine protection has nothing to do with learning to wield one’s fists. God’s love for us protects and purifies.
As the Bible says, “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty” (Zephaniah 3:17). Like those “gentle giants” in the jungle, it’s possible and natural to exist and even thrive in meekness and harmony.
Other versions of this article ran in the May 28, 2012, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel, and in the Christian Science Perspective column on August 30, 2011.