Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
~ Philippians 4:4-8
As I have mentioned (repeatedly, now-- see the last two posts), it is a very different Lent for me this year. A year after a Lent that was about the wilderness and discernment and walking a challenging path (for me; others have far greater challenges, to be sure), I find myself this year wanting to enter into Lent differently. I want to do it with joy.
Imagine my pleasure that the lectionary cooperates. Today, at any rate. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice." Perhaps the most famous lines from this epistle, which itself is know by its joyous tone. But the lines I love follow here: "Let your gentleness be known to everyone; the Lord is near."
There is a huge assumption here: the reader is gentle. The reader is capable of gentleness. I wonder if that was as counter-cultural in Paul's day as it is in ours. I know that I entered this new year with all sorts of resolutions about my work at St. Sociable. Not a single one had to do with gentleness, and one or two had to do with its direct opposite, getting "tougher" in a few areas, working harder to claim my pastoral authority. (Beloved thinks I'm a pushover. Which is funny, because you should listen to Beloved-the-Marshmallow with her staff.)
No one will give Barack Obama points for being gentle, no gentle TV news anchor will last long, no leading man is looking to cultivate a gentle persona. Lady Gaga Gentle? Mmmm, I don't think so. I'm not sure I'd even say Jesus was gentle, certain syrupy hymns notwithstanding. (Meek and mild? Not hardly.)
Gentleness connotes a kind of care one would take with others. A way of speaking, listening, being with people that takes into account their needs, their feelings. A way of being that seeks to avoid doing harm. Gentleness.
Now, it does occur to me that cultivating gentleness in the early Christian community might have been a kind of adaptive response to threats from without. If the Christians are thought of as gentle, the emperor might decide not to crucify them or set them on fire or throw them to the lions. Let's not have any heroes here, people. That sort of thing.
But I choose to believe Paul's admonition in favor of gentleness is not cynical or tactical. (Oh help, is anyone else out there stressed that they still don't know the difference between tactical and strategic??) I choose to believe that gentleness is being recognized here as a gospel value, a sign of the kindom breaking loose and wreaking a kind of whimsical havoc. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.