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The intelligence of meek hands

Regenerations/8 - The logic of the beatitudes is revealed in trials of life and in struggling businesses

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 20/09/2015

Logo rigenerazioni ridThe Beatitudes are not virtues, they are not an ethical discourse about human actions. Instead, they are the recognition that the poor, the meek, the pure in heart do exist in the world, just as those who cry, those who are persecuted for righteousness and the merciful. And they are called 'blessed'.

The Beatitudes are above all a revelation, the lifting of the veil to see a deeper, truer face of reality than the one it shows. The gospel does not present an ethics of virtue (as it was already there), but it gives and reveals to us the humanism of the beatitudes (that is not there yet, and so it can come at any time). If we really understood and lived the logic of the Beatitudes, we should go to the streets, squares, businesses, immigration camps, look around and repeat with and like Jesus of Nazareth: "blessed, blessed...".

There are too many who are pure in heart, persecuted for righteousness, poor and meek and are still waiting to be called 'blessed'. We do not know we are blessed until someone sees us, recognizes us and calls us with this wonderful name. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the new tablets of the Law he did not know that his face had become radiant (Exodus 34,29). It was his people to reveal the presence of that special light. The shining of one's face and all happiness appear in a relationship. We begin to learn to be happy amidst poverty, persecutions, when we cry and when others do, because someone who loves us tells us so, reminds us of their love and support. The more important Beatitudes are those of others. And ours wake up only when called by name.

Meekness exists, we see it every day, it gives us life, and thanks to it we make those around us live. The meek are recognized first of all by their tenderness, they all have the same root. They are docile, gentle, tender. The meek shall develop a special friendship with their hands - the Latin word (mansueto) refers to the tameness with which the lambs pass by the back of the hand of their shepherd. This tenderness is the opposite of the romantic and cheesy one that floods talk shows and commercials today. The meek know the sublime spiritual song of hands.

First of all they are docile to the action of the hand that works on/with them and know how to work. This is the first dimension of meekness: knowing how to sit still and pliant, especially on days when the hand of life is felt more intensely. To recognize the meek they should be observed in times of illness, during trials of life and, above all, in the encounter with death. Meekness is crucial help in times of being abandoned, during mourning, amidst internal and outer deserts, when we, as the lamb, dispose ourselves tamely to let the hand of the pastor do its job. And we should do ours: meekness is the opposite of passiveness. It is continuous, tenacious and persevering work. Meekness is the beatitude of the poor who can stay and live in conditions that would qualify as impossible for the non-tame.
We can meet meekness very often among the elderly and old people. The meekness of the heart looks like the softness of the ripe fruit, which fulfils its mission by becoming food for others or by falling and nourishing the land. The meekest eyes that I have ever met were the eyes of some old and even older people. Only these eyes have the gorgeous and bright colours of the last autumn.

It is not uncommon for a person to reveal all their hidden meekness (even to themselves) in the last phase of life, in their last days, in their last hour of life. When they manage to be docile in the hands of nurses and doctors, being turned by them in bed again and again, tame to the hands that pass by them, awake in the last endless nights. Or when we manage, for an unexpected gift, to see the hand of the angel of death and to recognize it as the good and friendly hand of the shepherd, and so let it embrace and caress us in the last hug-dance of life. So the first earth that the meek inherit is that little handkerchief that receives them in a benign and sisterly way when they return home in the end. Like Abraham, who obediently followed the voice calling him to a promised land, and who died in exile possessing only the land bought from the Hittites for the grave in which to bury his wife Sarah.

But the meek, accustomed to the action of the hands of others, also use their own hands to embrace, to heal, to welcome a friend, to host a repenting person. The meek hug, shake and cry together, and they know that you do not get to know someone without having them close to your chest, without kissing their cheeks with the kiss of peace. They know and use the humble and strong language of the body, the language of caresses, they are masters of tenderness and intelligence of the hands. We are all able to caress our children, and we can all caress those we love. These strokes are part of the basic repertoire of human beings - and other higher primates. But only the meek can and know how to caress anyone: children and adults, family members and strangers (only the meek should caress the children of others). And so with the exercise of the hands they heal the wounds of loneliness and abandonment that can only be healed when they feel a light helping hand pass on their skin. If it were not for the multitude of the meek that inhabit hospitals, paediatric wards, schools, shelters, social cooperatives, and act among volunteers in prisons, at stations and along the streets at night, life in these places would be impossible, or just too painful. Blessed are the meek, blessed are those who meet them and are caressed and loved by them.

Furthermore, the meek are necessary to disarm conflicts and rebuild peace and harmony everywhere. If there develops of a conflict (between brothers for an inheritance, between colleagues, between partners, within a community) without the involvement of at least one meek person, the only solution is usually that of the courts – and these are never true solutions in primary relations of our lives: the only true resolution of conflicts between brothers and friends is the embrace of bodies and hands. The meek can cover everything, they bear everything.

The meek are promised the earth, it is their inheritance. But the earth belongs to God in biblical humanism: "all the earth is mine" (Exodus 19,5). It is in this perspective that this particular beatitude (and all others) should be interpreted. We are only temporary owners and passengers on a land that is not ours. The first law of the earth is gratuitousness, all the earth and all lands are common property first and only then goods used with responsibility and care for our welfare (shalom). So the meek own all land by not possessing it; and therefore they share it all. They regard it as inheritance received for free, not as goods purchased in the markets; and therefore they want to leave it to their children. They open the doors of their house because they know that it is actually the house of the others, of everybody, too. And when their house is filled with non-family members they do not feel a hero nor an altruist, but only someone who is in possession of a land received as a gift and inheritance, even when they bought it from wages earned as hard working immigrants, with the savings of an entire life. Each of our properties is secondary, because the whole earth is owned by YHWH, and so it is neither one person's nor everyone's possession. The earth is always promised land, it is more than a (River) Jordan that we contemplate but never cross.

And if the meek are promised the earth, then the promised land is the land of the meek. Each land inhabited by the meek has already become the promised land. Also the land of our city, our neighbourhood, my home becomes the promised land if there is at least one meek person in it.

But the meek regard and live their life as an inherited land, too. In life, almost always there comes a defining moment when we understand, everyone in their own way, that the life we ​​are living is not what we originally wanted to live. The tree that has bloomed from the seeds of youth is not what we had thought or wanted either. The meek find their happiness-beatitude by accepting the life they live in a docile way, because they understand that for them there's no better tree grown out of that land. No tree resembles its seed, no good adult life coincides with the hopes of youth - and if it coincides it is not good. This meekness is the opposite of resignation, because while the resigned one becomes sad upon facing the disappointment of adulthood and gets sad and bitter over it, the meek one is happy and reconciled. Many, a myriad meek people end up finding their happiness in families and religious communities that have proven different than what they wanted to chose or dreamt of; sometimes it is very different or too different for the non-meek. The meek are able to flourish inside scenarios that were not scheduled on the day of their wedding or religious ordination, but once they have to go through them they embrace them with the same tenderness with which they embraced their bride on that first day. Embraces of the meek are all equal. We cannot control all events determining our happiness inside and around us. The greatest things in life are not chosen by us. They are inherited; we do not buy nor deserve them. We can reject them and run away in search of a land that is only and all ours. The meek, however, welcome them in their entirety, without asking for any "discount". They make them enter into their house where they set the table with the most beautiful tablecloth. And one day, surprised, they can have a feast, finding themselves adult and mature at last. There are few joys greater than those that bloom from feasts celebrated together with our disappointments. The meek know this kind of feast, they can savour this mature kind of joy, and are blessed. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

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