February 4, June 5, October 5
Chapter 7: On Humility
The seventh degree of humility
is that he consider himself lower and of less account
than anyone else,
and this not only in verbal protestation
but also with the most heartfelt inner conviction,
humbling himself and saying with the Prophet,
"But I am a worm and no man,
the scorn of men and the outcast of the people" (Ps. 21:7).
"After being exalted, I have been humbled
and covered with confusion" (Pa. 87:16).
"It is good for me that You have humbled me,
that I may learn Your commandments" (Ps. 118:71).
So many people get blown away arguing against the line: "I am a worm
and no woman..." (Every now and then a bit of politically correct
inclusion can be wickedly fun!) that they completely miss a crucially
important fact. Very ancient interpretation of this Psalm has the
Suffering Servant, Jesus, as its focus. Jesus Himself quoted its
opening line from the Cross: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken
me?" There are numerous allusions to the crucifixion in this Psalm,
casting lots for garments, piercing hands and feet and the derision
of the crowd, to name a few.
OK, so if we dare to put these wormy terms in the mouth of Christ,
how come we get antsy about saying the same of ourselves? Good
question! If HE can say it, even metaphorically, we surely should
have no problem!
But many seem to have a big problem there, so let's look at the
matter from a different angle. We absolutely CANNOT know that others
are worse than us. It's not possible, because we cannot see into
their hearts, we cannot know every factor in their guilt or lack
thereof. We cannot know that they are NOT better than us. God, and
God alone can know all those things. Even the individual involved
knows less about her complicity and culpability in a given action
than God does. That knowledge is always and everywhere partially
withheld from human consciousness. No one will ever know it all until
they die, when everything that was hidden will be made evident.
OK, one argues, so if we can't know anyone is worse, we sure can't
know if they're better, either. Quite right! Our God-given natural
assessment abilities allow us to be sure of no one's wickedness or
goodness, not even our own. BUT we have more facility in self-
judgement than we have in regard to others. We have more parts of the
puzzle there, even though we still don't have them all, we have
windows into our own hearts and minds that we have in no other case.
So, with all this ironclad uncertainty, why would Scripture and the
Holy Rule ask us to think ourselves less than anyone else? For two
very important reasons. First, it is the safest position to take.
Even without full knowledge of ourselves, we have more information
there than we have anywhere else. Secondly, it is the most profitable
position for learning and spiritual growth.
If we think someone is less than ourselves, there is little chance we
will learn anything from her: we're so busy with patronizing
condescension that only now and then will the woman's REAL words come
through to us. On the other hand, if we think everyone has something
to teach us, knowledge and growth start popping up all over the
place, in some very unlikely locations! This attitude is part of
listening, really listening.
And after all, "Listen" is where our Rule begins!
Love and prayers,
jeromeleo@... St. Mary's Monastery