Cambridge terms run for 8 weeks, Thursday-Wednesday, and people here often keep track of where they are in term by marking the fact that we are ‘near the end of Week 1’ etc. There is also the notoriety of the ‘Week 5 blues’ – supposedly because most people are worn out by that point in the term, but find themselves only at the half-way point.
To make the way we relate to the different weeks a little more positive, Siân and I are naming the weeks by a different fruit of the spirit. This is now the end of Week Gentleness. Here are our reflections.
Siân – Gentleness as Refinement
I read a story the other week about a lecturer who showed two apples to his students. On the outside, they looked the same, unblemished, untouched. But when he cut them open, the one which he had dropped repeatedly beforehand was brown and mushy and bruised, compared to the still-pristine inside of the one which had been handled with care.
All of us have that capacity for getting bruised… and I have seen gentleness this week in the ways which people have kept my below-the-surface vulnerability at the front of their minds when they spend time with me. Cups of tea made in tired moments, washing up done quietly late in the evening, a gentle touch, a sympathetic smile. But hard truths, delivered with sensitivity and grace, suggestions generously and thoughtfully given even when the recipient is unwilling to hear, the brutal impact of bad news cushioned by friends who absorb the shock with you – these things are gentleness, too.
Gentleness makes me think of polishing something made of soft metal, keeping pressure even and light, but with a drive to make something shine. If you take a hammer to it, it will dent. If you rub too vigorously, it will wear. But if you don’t polish at all, it will grow rusty and dusty and worn. When we are striving to be gentle with each other, I find it easy to forget that gentleness doesn’t just mean being soft or nice. It means wanting to help each other be refined, to remove dirt from painful wounds to allow them to heal, speaking truth in love, wiping tears away as they fall. The goal doesn’t change, but the way of thinking and acting does. Gentleness can – and should – push us to hard but helpful places.
Rachel – Gentleness as Humility
This week has made me realise that I don’t really think of gentleness as something ‘central’ to the gospel in the way I might regard some of the other fruits of the spirit to be (love/joy/goodness etc).
Fortunately for me, at student night at church this week we were looking at Luke 7:36-50 – in which a prostitute is publicly welcomed into the presence of Jesus. I remember reading this through on Friday morning with my co-leader, as we were planning for the Tuesday night, and just having this moment of ‘wow, this is gentleness!‘ This woman bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses them, and pours perfume on them, and Jesus responds, ‘Your sins are forgiven… your faith has saved you, go in peace’.
This beautiful and gentle picture of adoration, of the way we are allowed to approach and are welcomed into God’s presence, has never been too far from my thoughts in this week of gentleness.
In the gospel, Jesus gently forsakes himself so that we can make our approach, just as the woman in Luke 7 does. A way is made for us. Our gentleness can be used for us to make a way for others. And this ‘making a way’ happens because gentleness is connected with humility. Funnily enough, the times I’ve found it hardest to be gentle this week are those times that I have valued myself over others, and therefore not thought to listen well, or looked to be ‘making a way’. It is in humility that we are able to be gentle, and in gentleness that, as Siân says, we are refined.
‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.’ Philippians 4:4-5