When words try your spirit,
Mind, love does not take offence
Nor brood on injury.
Chapter 13 of St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians has been described as a handbook for the contemplative life. In it he provides a list of the attributes of love which incorporates the statement,
…[Love] does not take offence (verse 5). This comes as a surprise to us politically correct postmoderns who assume that love does not give offence. But, if you think about it in the context of Thomas Keating’s teaching, that is impossible to guarantee because offence is a purely subjective reaction. If you offend somebody, the real cause is that you’re pushing the buttons on their pre-rational energy centres, possibly inadvertantly. In an era when it seems everyone is constantly craning on tiptoe to see who might be ‘disrespecting’ them the likelihood of causing offence is greatly amplified. This way normal discourse is curtailed by self-censorship and delicate conversations become almost impossible.
Anyone who insists that nobody offends them is trying to exert control over other people and force them to enlist for their particular False Self project. Such an attitude cannot but lead to strained relationships. The better part is to hear what people have to say and make a balanced, rational judgment about whether to take notice or not without going on an emotional binge. This kind of love does not take offence.
On the occasion I first shared these ideas with my friend and colleague Jill Benet she said, “These are powerful thoughts. You should write a chant about it.” So here it is.
I chose ‘Meekness’ as the title for the chant because the people who do not take offence are the meek according to Thomas Keating. Again, the value of meekness is questioned nowadays as it is perceived as weakness. But the quality of meekness is not that you suffer mistreatment or insult uncomplainingly; true meekness means that you are very difficult to offend or, if you are offended, you have ways of handling it that won’t escalate the situation. As Fr. Thomas puts it, you recognise that if someone has a problem with you it is their problem not yours; you just don’t care if you are insulted or mistreated because you are free from wanting to control or have power over others. If something does need to be changed this freedom is the best place to start. Then meekness blends with courage and determination.