A Gentle and Quiet Spirit
In October of the Year of Biblical Womanhood project, Rachel’s goal was to “cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit.” As soon as I read that goal, I immediately liked the gentle bit but was cautious about the quiet bit. As I would understand it, gentleness is a virtue for everyone, male and female, as Rachel points out later in the chapter, citing the Fruits of the Spirit among other Scriptural passages which apply to both genders. Gentleness ties pretty closely to peace-making and restorative justice, which are probably the most dominant specific themes in Anabaptism (after radical discipleship in general). It’s hard to be a peacemaker if you’re filled with inner turmoil and are expressing that in contentious ways.I want to save some things for you to read when you buy the book, so I’m going to skip over a lot of the more humorous parts of her trying to be as legalistic as possible. But there are lots of great moments as she creates a “Jar of Contention” which she puts money in every time she does something that isn’t gentle and quiet (same concept as a swearjar), as she sits on her roof in penance, as she takes etiquette classes, and as she tries to restrain herself while watching football.
After a couple of weeks, she realized what many Christians throughout history have realized: trying to change behaviour from the outside in doesn’t get you very far. She decided to try another approach, starting contemplative prayer andLectio Divina. For those unfamiliar, you’re probably an evangelical (or not a Christian and just reading this anyway), because these are common spiritual disciplines in most other Christian traditions. Here she did see value in relatively short time, finding herself more at peace and in control. This paragraph says it beautifully:
I don’t know for sure, but I think maybe God was trying to tell me that gentleness begins with strength, quietness with security. A great tree is both moved and unmoved, for it changes with the seasons, but its roots keep it anchored in the ground. Mastering a gentle and quiet spirit didn’t mean changing my personality, just regaining control of it, growing strong enough to hold back and secure enough to soften.
This is a very powerful lesson for men and women alike. Sometimes people think that I am weak (especially being a man) because of how little I talk. I must not be confident enough to say what I’m thinking, they reason. I understand why they’d think that – many people are quiet for lack of confidence and our society does praise the loud. I tend to think the exact opposite, though: I’m comfortable enough that I don’t need to jump into conversations for the sake of jumping in. I’ll jump in when I think it is beneficial to the others to hear what I have to say. Obviously being an introvert helps, but I really do approach social interactions this way.
With that said, it is also important to know that being strong and secure does not nearly always mean being quiet. There are lots of times when we should speak up, out of our strength and confidence and regardless of our gender and the gender of the person we are talking to. For that reason I don’t consider quietness in and of itself to be a virtue. Imagine if the prophets had been silent (or Jesus, or Paul, or…). Some of those prophets did come up with some other very effective non-vocal ways of getting their point across, from marrying a prostitute to baking bread over animal excrement (probably as fuel, not eating the excrement) to bringing people back from the dead. But for the most part, they also talked when they felt it was necessary. They did so lovingly and gently, but yes, often a prophetic voice is required. This is why I admire Rachel so much: she is a gentle prophetic voice, speaking truth in a way that honours all human life, while also employing some similarly creative means to make her points in ways that only speaking cannot.
Other Notes from this Chapter
- I realized that Rachel was going to make great points about social inequality of women within the church. I realized that she would leverage Scripture brilliantly to do so. But there are two things that I wasn’t entirely expecting: how funny she is, and how much personal spiritual reflection she gives. See the quote above for an amazingly poetic example.
- At the end of the chapter, she gives the story of Deborah and Jael in Judges. These are hardly gentle women. I’m just glad she didn’t decide to emulate them in her year, going around stabbing people with tent pegs.
- At a few points she references how much input she had to handle from friends, family, and blog readers: some saying she’s crazy, some accusing her of heresy, some cheering for her, some giving her advice, some just laughing at her as she sat on her roof doing penance. As an introvert this type of attention would have driven me crazy within a week, but she is still fighting through it since. It definitely adds to my respect for her.