Humility is a spiritual quality for which I have never prayed! As a woman I often felt that it was something thrust on me, in the Church and in the world; it was something that someone else thought I ought to have, and I resisted that notion. Then culturally, the caricatures of the meek or the humble were never attractive either–doormat, milquetoast, mouse—none of them inspired me to do what I was made and called to do, or to dream dreams and imagine visions. But in this season of my life, I am wondering if humility might indeed be the gift or charism which could lead me to the most open heart for the Spirit, the quality ascribed to Jesus, that will be the most life-giving and life-saving for all the rest of my days.
It is an incontrovertible truth that I am not now what I have been in the past, nor am I what I am going to be. Daily I run into my lack of memory for certain parts of names or my lack of agility in rising and falling on the chair. What I observe bitter-sweetly is that the roles and functions I was called to fill in an earlier time, are now being filled by others–younger, fresher, more cutting–edge, as they say. And if I am ruthlessly honest, I know that there are things that I never have excelled in or was even suited for. So what does humility mean? It certainly can’t mean pretending not to be good at something at which I am gifted. Nor does the model of self-flagellation and mortification of saints of earlier ages seem to be something that produces life and growth. So I continue to look for incarnated definition. Pope Francis is capturing the attention of the world and the Church by the way he seems to be open and accessible to all people, no matter how broken and unimportant. I am so grateful for someone who is putting a face on Christianity that is closer to our aspirations than so many public religious leaders have done in contemporary times. But I know he is human, and if no other flaws of character and behavior show themselves, he will still show his frailty age and as he moves toward the arms of Sister Death.
So where to look and listen? This week someone in passing told me that humility was really just knowing who you are, what your capacity is, as if it were a cup, and making sure that you are using a full cup each day, not less than you have, nor more than you have. I reached back into my memory of the J. B. Phillips version of Roman 12: 3:
Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the gift of faith that God has given you.
So to be humble is to be sane about who I really am, and to let go of entitlements, projections and fantasies just the way that we read that Jesus did in Philippians 2. And on the day by day peregrinations in which I walk, it means to assess rationally what I am able to do–in my body, soul and mind. Then listen for the Spirit call: is this the time to step up and speak, or is this a time to sit quietly and let others lead the way? is this the person alongside whom I should come to offer assistance, or is this the time to wait until asked? is this the idea that I cherish that I must bang the drum for, or is it one that I can breathe life into by prayer, encouragement, affirming others? In my milieu where doing what makes one’s self happy is the ultimate value in one’s life, I am being called to the elasticity of humility, that allows me to stretch out in service to help and proclaim and love, and at the same time be willing to contract and and to serve as I sit still, be quiet, and be loved by the Holy One.
Deep thoughts for my daily walk this season!