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Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.                             1 Peter 5:6-7  

This text has been the Scripture we have been reflecting on at Compline since Pentecost.  In this time of physical distancing and COVID-19 restrictions, we have offered a structure to our worshipping life (albeit only for those with access to the internet) of Morning and Night Prayer (Compline) during the weekdays, Sunday worship and a weekly reflection to ground us in these fluid and uncertain days. 

Aside from special feast days, the Reflections have focussed on spiritual practices to help us live in the way of Jesus.  Today, I want to consider the practice of humility.

I wonder how you ‘hear’ the word humility or humble? Is it a trigger word?  Does it bring thoughts of shame or bring out the rebellious streak in you?  Well, I hope that this exploration will rehabilitate the term, if that is needed, and use it as a way to live well in these days when we need to address issues of justice and reconciliation.

I want to jump right in and quote from John Philip Newell in his book, A New Harmony. Newell is a leading contemporary writer on Celtic Spirituality, which I believe has a resonance when considering indigenous justice and Creation concerns.

Think of the hubris of our lives. Think of our individual arrogance, the way we pursue our own well-being at the neglect and even expense of other individuals and other families. Think of the hubris of our nationhood, pretending that we could look after the safety of our homeland by ignoring and even violating the sovereignty of other lands. Think of the hubris of our religion, raising ourselves up over other wisdom traditions and even trying to force our ways on them. Think of the hubris of the human species, pretending that we could look after our own health while exploiting and endangering the life of other species.

The way of hubris, of arrogantly lifting ourselves up over the other, is opposite to the way of Jesus, who taught the strength of humility, of being close to the humus, close to the Ground from which we and all things come. The humblest, says Jesus, are “the greatest” (Matthew 18:4). Not that following Jesus’ path of humility is straightforward. Constantly there is tension—the tension of discerning how to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, how to honour the heart of another nation as we honour our own homeland, how to revere the truths of another wisdom tradition as we cherish our own inheritance, how to protect the life of other species as we guard the sanctity of our own life-form. Jesus knew such tension. He was tempted to use his wisdom and his power of presence to serve himself, to lift himself up over others. But to the tempter, he says, “Away with you, Satan!” (Matthew 4:10). Away with the falseness of believing that I can love myself and demean others.

The twelfth-century teacher Hildegard of Bingen says, “Arrogance is always evil because it oppresses everything, disperses everything, and deprives everything.” The way of hubris pretends that we can be well by oppressing, by exploiting another people in order to serve our own people. It pretends that we can be well by dispersing, by breaking down life’s oneness into entirely unrelated compartments. And it pretends that we can be well by depriving, by denying to others and to other species what we ourselves most cherish. “By way of contrast,” says Hildegard, “humility does not rob people or take anything from them. Rather, it holds together everything in love.” The way of humility, of reconnecting to the humus, remembers the sacred Ground of being within us all. And it knows that we will be truly well to the extent that we love one another. [1]

In order for us to fulfill the two great commandments of loving God with our whole being (conversion of life) and loving our neighbour as ourselves, we will need to learn the practice of humility.  The fruit of a Christian life includes the reduction of hubris!

When we consider issues around racial and Indigenous justice and even evangelism, the posture of humility is helpfully unpacked by Christian writers who have lived in majority ‘non-Christian’ countries.   The Algerian Catholic, Pierre Claverie spoke of humility not as a form of self-debasement but rather of not being ‘centre stage’ and it creates a space where others are not prevented from entering.

Another Catholic, Bede Griffith, who lived much of his life in India, said this in his autobiography, speaks powerfully about the shift from this form of self-centredness:

I suddenly saw that all the time it was not I who had been seeking God, but God who had been seeking me. I had made myself the centre of my own existence and had my back turned to God. All the beauty and truth which I had discovered had come to me as a reflection of his beauty, but I had kept my eyes fixed on the reflection and was always looking at myself.

But God had brought me to the point at which I was compelled to turn away from the reflection, both of myself and of the world which could only mirror my own image. During that night the mirror had been broken, and I had felt abandoned because I could no longer gaze upon the image of my own reason and the finite world which it knew. God had brought me to my knees and made me acknowledge my own nothingness, and out of that knowledge I had been reborn. I was no longer the centre of my life and therefore I could see God in everything.[2]

Now, it is important to remember that our moving from the centre stage does not mean that you do not love yourself.  It is a sign of the times that advertising and the messages we receive daily echo the idea ‘it’s all about you’.  It’s not – that thinking is what leads to division and injustice.  To practice humility is to be counter cultural, it is about reordering our life so that God has the proper priority and we allow the space for the other.  In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus reminds us to not worry about what we will wear or eat but seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness and ‘all these other things will be added to you’ (Matthew 6:34). Put more positively if we seek God’s kingdom – we will be working for justice and reconciliation here in Vancouver, in the nation and internationally. I conclude with the words from Isaiah which Jesus claimed for himself and recorded in Luke 18:  18 

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,     

because he has anointed me         

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives     

and recovery of sight to the blind,       

to let the oppressed go free,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

This is the Way of Jesus – when we practice humility other people experience respect, dignity and we are also made more whole. May it be so in our day!


[1] John Philip Newell A New Harmony (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 83-85. [2] Bede Griffiths, The Golden String