Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
Originally posted 5/17/14
“Every success becomes the force of timid people,” wrote my Chinese student on the topic of self-efficacy, that is, a “person’s estimate or personal judgment of his or her own ability to succeed in reaching a…goal” .
The strength of her statement, as translated from her language to English, stays with me, and defines this student, in a way. A soft-spoken, timid, if you will, young lady, she illustrates a stark contrast to our more strident, independent native speakers; however, she is quite strong in the attributes of a superior student faced with the challenge of learning a new language WHILE having to use it in a college study skills course.
Despite her gentle “presentation” in the rough and tumble West, this young lady is the epitome of one who possesses a strong sense of self-efficacy, to be sure. And she has figured out the ticket to her goals: the successful completion of each small step.
In a completely different context and classroom, this kind of surprising strength reminds me of one of my favorite poems, “Mushrooms,” by Sylvia Plath :
Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room…
So the poet begins, and proceeds to describe the “earless and eyeless” yet prolific little fungi as “asking little or nothing.”
Yet, and here Plath speaks as The Body Mushroom, “We shall by morning/Inherit the earth./Our foot’s in the door.”
“Creepy!” is a common first-read reaction in introductory literature classes.
Political science majors wonder if Plath is nodding to collectivism.
Christians recognize the allusion to the Scriptures.
I, on the other hand, a helpless word-o-phile, relish the almost wicked undertone, the tingling sense of amassing strength one discerns with each stanza as Plath reveals the humble eukaryote spreading out, spore by spore, inch by inch—foot by yard by continent.
Though mushrooms are voiceless I can imagine the soft, insistent, if ever so faint, “muahahahahah” emitting from the bland, spongy crowd underfoot—and everywhere else—as in a kind of stealth takeover they acquire the globe...
So what do my persevering Chinese student and the ubiquitous mushroom have in common?
In the most unlikely.
Of course I can’t help but think of a spiritual application concerning the term, in this case “meekness–” often thought a synonym of timid, but not always so. I’m referencing meek, definition B: a kind of strength like the force of the timid but persevering student, the bland but persistent fungi. This definition connotes power not dependent on beauty, bucks, or brawn, rather, an inner strength. Here are a few illustrations of this kind of meekness from the “classroom” of the Scriptures:
“Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” (Proverbs 25:15, NIV).
“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
“A gentle answer turns away wrath…” (Proverbs 15:1).
Sound familiar? Here is the same thought, expanded, in the New Testament: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
No shock and awe employed here to disarm and control, but the wisdom to know when to speak and when not to, when to act and when not to, when to stay and when to leave. And when to wait as seed by bud by bloom by fruit good, at length (or at once), overcomes bad.
It is the power of meekness that understands precisely if and when and why and how to “turn the other cheek”—or not—in the realm of the spirit.
But the most potent form of meekness is the kind demonstrated by One…
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11).
That One, Jesus, lowliest in the world’s eye, indeed, Who “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2), is the One Who gave all, for all, to receive all—to the ultimate and complete glory of God and the ultimate and complete redemption of His people.
However, back to that day at Calvary, evil no doubt howled in triumph as He Who yielded to whip, thorns, nails and cross seemed finally destroyed, a soldier’s spear into His side revealing the last drop of His blood.
But the story wasn’t finished; the power of Christ’s humiliation on the cross was not yet fully revealed.
Still hidden from comprehension were both the satisfaction for evil and the entrance to God’s presence hewn at Golgotha. There, where Jesus’ blood pooled, where He took those things meant, for justice’s sake, for us, in an act of vicarious propitiation, was a demonstration of the purest love: the most potent force of all. He, the sinless, suffered and died where we, the sinners, should have but by faith need not.
And to seal the deal, Jesus rose three days later from the ignominy of Good Friday to the glory of Easter Sunday in a display of the power of love that continues today and against which the power of evil is moot and will at length be no more.
Certainly not Satan or he would not so grossly have underestimated Jesus’ choice of the cross at the crossroads of time. He would not have made the fatal mistake of confusing Jesus’ willing submission with permission to destroy Him. Indeed, if Satan had understood Calvary, played out exactly as it was, he would have known it was really the seed of his own destruction.
But we can know fully the power of God’s plan for our redemption now–with help from our own “translator,” the Holy Spirit, as minute by day by year by lifetime He transforms us into the image of the Same Who made it all possible. And the end result, even here on this darkling plain? Not just the ability to overcome evil, but, by grace efficacious, in Christ, to conquer it, too .
 See Romans chapter 8.
Thank you for another thoughtful post, Phyllis. I always thought the saying ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ to be inept. The word ‘meek’ is hardly used now and can be misinterpreted to mean timid, as you say. I prefer the New Jerusalem Bible’s take on Matthew 5.4, ‘Blessed are the gentle: they shall have the earth as inheritance’, not ‘Blessed are the meek’ as most translations have it. In any case Jesus was hardly mild, He wasn’t mild to the religious establishment, pointing out their arrogance and lack of humility. He was mild, compassionate and gentle to those who were at the limit of endurance, the beggars and the blind and the lame, those who had been visited by misfortune of all kinds. We must be as loving and compassionate to those who Jesus would have paused in his mission to grant healing and peace.
In response, as you yourself wrote:
Jesus taught us humility, the primary quality we need to accept him and abandon all ideas of autonomy. T. S. Eliot penned a lovely passage in Four Quartets:
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility; humility is endless.
The reason the world has gone wrong is that the antithesis of humility, pride, has grown to reign in the hearts of men. Then we read in Ecclesiastes, ‘the human heart is full of wickedness; folly lurks in our hearts throughout our lives….(9.3 NJB). The Pharisees and scribes were the perfect example for Jesus’ teachings on the folly of pride and arrogance.
In each of us there exists a constant tension between the demands of justice that we know are paramount and that whispering voice that tells us to satisfy our own tendencies. Paul describes this in Romans 7.18-25, as rendered in the New Jerusalem Bible:
‘And really, I know of nothing good living in me – in my natural self, that is – for though the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do it is not: the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want – that is what I do. But every time I do what I do not want to, then it is not myself acting, but the sin that lives in me.
‘So I find this rule: that for me, where I want to do nothing but good, evil is close at my side. In my inmost self I dearly love God’s law, but I see that acting on my body there is a different law which battles against the law in my mind. So I am brought to be a prisoner of that law of sin which lives inside my body.
‘What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death? God – thanks be to him – through Jesus Christ our Lord.
‘So it is that I myself with my mind obey the law of God, but in my disordered nature I obey the law of sin.’
And what do we see in the shops and on TV commercials? Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs, which have nothing whatever to do with the most profound happening in the history of the world which shaped the western world, and much besides, to what it is today. So fantasy, trivia and self-indulgence win the day. Satan has such a small mind, but he knows how easy it is to infiltrate minds unattuned to spiritual necessities.
Nice nod to T.S., too.
Thanks you, Colin, and blessings,