Humility — Telling the Truth about Our Earthiness

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.
— Wendell Berry

"As a Benedictine oblate, I have made a commitment to live out monastic values and practices in my everyday life. Perhaps one of the most profound values for me is humility, which is a virtue that does not elicit much awe or admiration in our culture. Humility seems outdated in our world of self-empowerment and self-esteem, and it negates much of the me-first values that our culture holds so dear.

"Some reservations about humility are legitimate, especially for women. Abuse of humility can encourage passivity and low self-worth. An improper definition of humility can be used as a tool of oppression that imparts fear, guilt, or an abiding sense of failure. This is often an attempt to remind people of their proper 'place' and to keep them from challenging institutions or those who hold power. False humility also exists when people deny how good they are as a means to elevate themselves.

"There are different kinds of humility, and depending on the approach, humility could be life-giving or hostile. John Forman, a Benedictine oblate, writes:

" 'One key to differentiate life-giving humility from negating humility is the focus: Grace-given "humility" acknowledges both the individual self and the Self that transcends each of us, while hostile "humility" is entirely self-focused and, ultimately, consuming as it unevenly sees only the "created" and not the creator or that which sustains the created.'

"Hostile humility keeps us small and hinders full expression of our gifts.

"The word humility is derived from humus, which means 'earth.' Humility is essentially about being rooted and grounded. Humility is also about truth and radical self-honesty in celebrating the unique gifts we have been given in service of others, while we recognize our limitations and woundedness.

"In Seeking God, Esther De Waal writes that humility means to be 'profoundly earthed' and to acknowledge the truth of our human condition. She suggests that if we want to know how humble we are, the first question to ask ourselves is: 'How aware am I that anything I do in any way is part of the working out of God's will?' Humility demands that as a part of honesty, we also celebrate our blessings. We are taught to recognize our talents and skills as not of our own making. Rather, they are gifts we receive and hold in trust to give to our communities, and therefore, our gifts are not for ourselves alone. We are called to create not for our own satisfaction but to participate in the co-creation of a more just and beautiful world.

"Remembering our earthiness and our human limitations is another important aspect of humility. . . . Saying 'no' is equally as important as saying 'yes.' Naming for ourselves where we are not being called is essential to discovering where we are being called to devote the fullness of our energy. We live in a world with so many good and worthy opportunities that we can feel pulled in many directions. Humility reminds us that we are not called to be all things to all people. Instead, we are to nurture our unique gifts and to recognize that self-care is good stewardship of those gifts.

"Honoring our limits as creatures can be deeply liberating, as is surrendering our demanding inner perfectionism. How often do we resist beginning a creative project due to the fear that it will not live up to the image in our minds? Humility invites us to release those expectations and enter into the call of our gifts, knowing that it may look very differently from what we imagined.

"Gently and compassionately recognizing our flaws can bind us closer to others and to God. We must have patience with the unfolding of our lives and the world, and understand that God's kingdom unfolds in God's time. When we do so, we discover that we are not solely responsible for saving the world. Acknowledging these limits can liberate us from our compulsions and frantic busyness and lead us toward recognizing our interdependence. In this way, each of our gifts contributes to the whole.

"Humility is also about welcoming those experiences that create a sense of resistance in us. In his book on Benedictine humility, A Guide to Living in the Truth, Michael Casey reminds us that 'a much more creative way of dealing with difficult texts is to take our negative reaction as an indication that there may be an issue beneath the surface with which we must deal.' For instance, scripture passages that make us wrestle are often the ones that bear the greatest fruit, by revealing our own hidden places of resistance and fear. The same can be said of the creative process — the thing we most fear doing teaches us the most about our own hesitancies and angst. Humility invites us to embrace these challenges as doorways into deeper understanding of ourselves and God."