Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reading for January 25, May 26, September 25

January 25, May 26, September 25
Chapter 7: On Humility

Holy Scripture, brethren, cries out to us, saying,
"Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled,
and he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11).
In saying this it shows us
that all exaltation is a kind of pride,
against which the Prophet proves himself to be on guard
when he says,
"Lord, my heart is not exalted,
nor are mine eyes lifted up;
neither have I walked in great matters,
nor in wonders above me."
But how has he acted?
"Rather have I been of humble mind
than exalting myself;
as a weaned child on its mother's breast,
so You solace my soul" (Ps. 130:1-2).

Hence, brethren,
if we wish to reach the very highest point of humility
and to arrive speedily at that heavenly exaltation
to which ascent is made through the humility of this present life,
we must
by our ascending actions
erect the ladder Jacob saw in his dream,
on which Angels appeared to him descending and ascending.
By that descent and ascent
we must surely understand nothing else than this,
that we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility.
And the ladder thus set up is our life in the would,
which the Lord raises up to heaven if our heart is humbled.
For we call our body and soul the sides of the ladder,
and into these sides our divine vocation has inserted
the different steps of humility and discipline we must climb.

Some thoughts:

I'll be honest, I've taken some time off from posting about the RB because I have been much too agitated to trust myself or my thoughts. Returning to the RB today, what do I discover but that it is good ole Chapter 7 on Humility, the section of the Rule with which I struggle the most. And I mean struggle.

All my life, I've been called names like arrogant, domineering, egotistical, suffering under the burdens of other people's unflattering judgement of me. I can;t tell you how much it has hurt and devastated me. Especially because what I really was most of the time was seriously depressed and terrified of it. Certainly, I must not have carried this cross of depression graciously, overcompensating. I'd spent my life trying to shape myself into the sort of person people would like. Only problem is there was no one persona I could adopt that would please everyone. As I grew older and became better able to sort out my issues from those of other people, I realized that other people were trying to make me take the responsibility for their own discomfort with my obvious depression. Rather than examine themselves to learn why they had such a reaction, they'd blame me for it. As time went on, I despised such people.

Another thing that was/is difficult for other people is that I am smart and intellectually inclined. It was one good thing about myself that I was positive of and I clung to it like a life boat. Spending every single moment of every single day in despair, darkness, aching, yearning for someone to tell me what was wrong with me so i could fix it, I used my brain to get me through, trying to ignore my emotions and allowing my intellect to steer me through. As that worked for me, as my education advanced with the highest possible GPA, I despised those who seemed to resent me for being more intelligent than they.

As a result, this chapter, above all the others, challenges me. It asks me to give up some of those habits I learned in order to survive a life time of Major Depressive Disorder that eventually disabled me. What this chapter asks of me to recognize is that while I am not better than anyone else, i am really also no worse than anyone else. Which was perhaps the biggest lie the Insidious Dark ever told me.

I will always have a strong personality. How could I not? It was shaped in the crucible. There's that hymn that was sung somewhere, I forget exactly how it goes, something like "bend me, mold me, crush me, shape me" and I used to find it unbearable to sing because such was my daily life and if other people only knew what those words meant, they wouldn't sing them so cheerfully.

Part of the razor's edge of humility, it seems to me, is knowing who God called me to be and saying no to everything else. I've spent my life between too extremes. One extreme was my own inflated view of just how brilliant I was. The other extreme was how rotten a person I was. Both are equally wrong in the Lord's eyes.

This may be too personal, but that was my response. Do these words of Benedict call forth anything from you?

Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister:

If the twentieth century has lost anything that needs to be rediscovered, if the western world has denied anything that needs to be owned, if individuals have rejected anything that needs to be professed again, if the preservation of the globe in the twenty-first century requires anything of the past at all, it may well be the commitment of the Rule of Benedict to humility.

The Roman Empire in which Benedict of Nursia wrote his alternative rule of life was a civilization in a decline not unlike our own. The economy was deteriorating, the helpless were being destroyed by the warlike, the rich lived on the backs of the poor, the powerful few made decisions that profited them but plunged the powerless many into continual chaos, the Empire expended more and more of its resources on militarism designed to maintain a system that, strained from within and threatened from without, was already long dead.

It is an environment like that into which Benedict of Nursia flung a Rule for privileged Roman citizens calling for humility, a proper sense of self in a universe of wonders. When we make ourselves God, no one in the world is safe in our presence. Humility, in other words, is the basis for right relationships in life.

Later centuries distorted the notion and confused the concept of humility with lack of self-esteem and substituted the warped and useless practice of humiliations for the idea of humility. Eventually the thought of humility was rejected out of hand and we have been left as a civilization to stew in the consequences of our arrogance.

Benedict's magna carta of humility directs us to begin the spiritual life by knowing our place in the universe, our connectedness, our dependence on God for the little greatness we have. Anything else, he says, is to find ourselves in the position of "a weaned child on its mother's lap," cut off from nourishment, puny, helpless--however grandiose our images of ourselves--and left without the resources necessary to grow in the spirit of God. No infant child is independent of its mother, weaned or not. No spiritual maturity can be achieved independent of a sense of God's role in our development.

Jacob's ladder is a recurring image of spiritual progress in classic spiritual literature, as clear in meaning to its time as the concept of the spiritual journey, for instance, would be to a later age. It connected heaven and earth. It was the process by which the soul saw and touched and climbed and clung to the presence of God in life, whose angels "descended and ascended" in an attempt to bring God down and raise us up. That ladder, that precariously balanced pathway to the invisible God, Benedict said, is the integration of body and soul. One without the other, it seems, will not do. Dualism is a hoax.

Just as false, though, is the idea that "getting ahead" and "being on top" are marks of real human achievement. Benedict says that in the spiritual life up is down and down is up, "we descend by exaltation and we ascend by humility." The goals and values of the spiritual life, in other words, are just plain different than the goals and values we've been taught by the world around us. Winning, owning, having, consuming, and controlling are not the high posts of the spiritual life. And this is the basis for social revolution in the modern world.

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