You may have heard me mention st. Benedict recently. The legacy and teaching of his Rule (guide of monastic life) is the focus of our Thursday night sessions (6-7pm) and in my research, I have realized how much of St. Benedict’s imprint is found in the traditions of the Anglican Church. If I am reading st. Benedict, and those who write about him correctly, it is then striking that he lists the whole purpose of monastic life as “growing in humility.” In the starkness of his (5th century) writing the way up to heaven is humility and the way down to hell is self-exaltation. His argument, in fact, becomes that growing in humility is the work of every person seeking to live the life of Jesus.
This reflection has led me to consider what seeking humility looks like outside of a monastery. I suspect actually that you know the process well, but may have never considered it part of your growth in holiness – part of the Spirit’s work, and part of your non-monastic vocation. The pattern looks like this: We engage in community (family, friends, church, real human networks)
1. We engage in community (family, friends, church, real human networks)
2. We encounter moments of vulnerability: our anger is raised, we feel ashamed, we act in ways we wish we had not, someone points something out to us about ourselves, and so on
3. Then things get messy! a) we may pretend that we have nothing to learn about ourselves and remain in our stubbornness, b) we may decide that we are horrible people who can do nothing right and remain in despair, b) we can be curious about the moment, learn from it, challenge others, and gain greater perspective, c) we may bring the moment before God in prayer seeking perspective.
4. Depending on how we have negotiated the last step, we may be able to deepen our life in community, we may be able to deepen our perspective of ourselves, which is to deepen in humility.
Healthy communities don’t avoid vulnerability, healthy communities allow it and foster it as a means of growing in humility.
Humility might just as well be defined as “living in the truth.” Humility is about seeing the world and ourselves just as we are.
I was struck that one approach to understanding humility is to understand that we are not exceptional. In a broad human understanding, we are not exceptional to death, we are not exceptional to the gift of life from our creator, we are not exceptional to the laws of time and space, we are not exceptional to the broken ways that we all do things.
The goal of Christian life is to live in right perspective of ourselves – in true humility. And St. Benedict would add that the purpose of humility, is that we may truly live in love. For unless we understand our strengths and weaknesses, unless we understand our beauty and our ugliness, unless we live in such humility we cannot understand that God loves us just as we are.
You are loved just as you are. How are your communities inviting you to grow this day in humility (right self-perspective) so that you may understand this love more deeply? If you feel you are not connected to such a community, where might you seek this out?
Ps. Humility is not about humiliation, nor is it about weakness, or only about being low. A Christian definition is about seeing ourselves from the Creator’s perspective – our true strengths and weaknesses truly defined. Jesus arguably lived in perfect humility and did so with such confidence, forthrightness, and courage. He is our image of true humility. It is not about weakness but about living in the truth of who we actually are.