‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ This is the third of the Beatitudes that Jesus teaches his disciples in Matthew, chapter 5. ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’

I have just been on the island of Thassos in the north of the Aegean in Greece. A rich and beautiful island with what is reputed to be the best marble in the world. There is an old Roman quarry in the settlement of Alyki in the south of the island. The land is fertile, pomegranates abound, as well as millenarian olive trees that produce an olive oil that is thick and tasty. Of course, being Greece, there is plenty of tourism, with attractive, isolated beaches catering to the needs of those who come here for a rest.

But what struck me this time was the abundance of animal life. On our first day, swimming off the beach of Trypiti round to a gap in the rock that leads to a small harbour, I spotted a flash of blue with a tawny underside. Could it be a kingfisher fishing by the sea? That is certainly what it seemed. I hadn’t seen one since I was a child and visited the RSPB reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk. Two days later, I saw the same flash of blue while swimming off the beach of Atspas – the same or another kingfisher. Off the same beach, we spotted dolphins, circumflex accents dipping in and out of the ocean. Cormorants stood like statues on the rocks, keeping an eye out for fish or simply gazing at the view. Others skimmed the waves in low flight, these ones certainly fishing, competing with the ferries that to and froed in the distance.

There were plenty of goats, some sheep, cats filling the gaps in balconies, dogs being taken out by their owners, there are no pavements, so they walk in the road. One night, we came across a hedgehog, all pins and needles, it curled into a ball. Later, when I went to search for it again, it had disappeared, motored off into the night at surprising speed.

One of our favourites was the donkey in the next-door garden, a beautiful animal with a grey-brown coat, a dark brown line marking the transition from its head to its body. It would serenade us in the morning and evening with a series of sharp inbreaths and loud outbursts. It had gentle eyes, oceans in themselves, ears that swivelled delightfully (and not always in the same direction) and yellow teeth it liked to bare in front of us. After several days, I got the impression it really was greeting us when we got up in the morning and returned from the beach in the late afternoon.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ I have the impression that animals know when you believe in God, they react differently, they see you no longer as a threat, but as a possible friend. They notice you, and you notice them. You view the world differently, it is no longer there for the taking, as it is so often treated, when we view ourselves as authors and draw lines. We are just passing through, after all, and we begin to delight in the simple things of life, which are the most important. It is as if the animals realize we have (finally!) come to our senses. They are waiting for us to realize. Perhaps they have never lost their spiritual sight, as we have, but they must endure whatever we might throw at them while waiting for us to repent, to change our attitude, to see things (to see them) in a different light. Then they come to us, they share with us, they communicate with us.

So, for me, ‘blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’ is exactly true. When we are meek, we believe. When we are proud or stubborn, we refuse to believe and rely on science (which is only the study of God’s creation and what we have learned about it), on what we can prove. This is the problem with belief. Belief gives sight, belief changes the way you view things, but how can you believe if you haven’t seen God or had an experience? There’s the conundrum. Belief gives sight, but sight gives belief.

I always remember Apostle Peter walking on the water. While he believes, he walks towards Christ; only when he hesitates, when he doubts, does he begin to sink, to lose his equilibrium. God just wants us to believe. Nothing else. And to those who believe – to the meek – is given the whole world.

Jonathan Dunne,

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