After one unexpected visitor after another came knocking last Thursday afternoon, I was finally able to break free and escape to our designated sanctuary of peace here in Kananga. Kristi and I have been taking personal retreats at the Tabor Center since arriving in 2010. The nuns and other workers know us by name, and Tabor has become synonymous with peace in our rhythms of life in Congo.
Sister Justine greeted me, gave me the key to my room, and asked that I remember her in my prayers. The next 48 hours would be spent reading and reflecting on scripture and books by inspirational authors, taking prayer walks through the vast open space, journaling, centering prayer, resting, watching bugs, and listening to worship music and inspirational teachings on my MP3 player.
One particular word can summarize some of my reflections during this particular prayer retreat – “Meekness.” A.W. Tozer, in The Pursuit of God, writes that the human race can be described as embodying the antithesis of everything Jesus teaches in the Beatitudes. Pride, pleasure seeking, arrogance, vanity, cruelty, corrupt imaginings and quarrelling seem to define us. Sardonically Tozer writes, “Of this kind of moral stuff civilized society is composed.”
Tozer describes the burden of pride. He writes that many of us set ourselves up as “a little god,” suffering the intolerable burden of cringing under any criticism or imagined slight, “tossing sleeplessly if another is preferred before [us].” Sadly, I feel that I can relate all to well to this scathing analysis of the human heart. I want to shine and not be outshone. I want to be preferred and chosen, not overlooked and forgotten. I want to be the inspiring person people remember. All of this pride and disdain of even the perceived slight from others burdens my heart and soul like a 2,000 pound lead weight. “The heart’s fierce efforts to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest,” writes Tozer.
Yet Tozer also offers the antidote - meekness and rest. “The meek man,” he writes, “cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort.” Moreover, the meek person is able to kindly acknowledge to himself the reality of being overlooked, the need to be consistent in her humility before God and before others, and to simply not care what others think. She may recognize that she is indeed helpless and weak, yet she also knows that she is more valuable to God than angels. The meek person is not a “human mouse” with a terrible inferiority complex. Rather, he may be as bold and courageous as a lion. The key, however, is that he has accepted God’s estimate of his life.
In the Cloud of Unknowing, a famous contemplative work by an unnamed English mystic, meekness is described as “a true knowing and feeling of a man’s self as he is. For surely, whoso might verily see and feel himself as he is, he should verily be meek.” However, in true contemplative fashion, the author does not leave us there. Rather, he states that there are two levels of meekness, and this estimation of self is only the first. The second level lies in our ability to grasp or seek to grasp the “over-abundant love and the worthiness of God in Himself; in beholding of the which all nature quaketh, all clerks be fools, and all saints and angels be blind.” Here, he argues, is where perfect meekness dwells – standing in awe of perfection and divine goodness and someone greater than anything we could ever dream or imagine, God Himself!
I wish that I could say that God healed me from my heart of pride during this two day escape into the rocky wilderness of my soul. He didn’t. But I am on a path, and I pray that in due time I will be able to gently and lovingly chide myself when I am overlooked or feel slighted, remember who I am in relation to God, find my soul at rest in Jesus who offers us rest (Matt. 28: 11), and see God standing exalted before all persons, angels, creatures, created things and creation as Greatness personified,deified and magnified.
Sister and brother, may we with utter meekness of heart and depravity of soul say with Isaiah the prophet of old, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Is. 6: 5).
In our meekness, may we find rest. Glory be to God.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5: 5)