Saturday, June 06, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Humility 1

An old man was asked, "What is humility?" and he said in reply, "Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way of humility is to undertake bodily labour and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all." Then a brother said, "What does it mean, to be subject to all?" The old man answered, "To be subject to all is not to give your attention to the sins of others but always to give your attention to your own sins and to pray without ceasing to God."

Some thoughts:

In his Rule, St Benedict has a very long chapter on humility. He sees it as a ladder with 12 steps. Ultimately, Benedict gets to this place, but he has expanded on what this Desert Father wrote.

But just imagine the sense of freedom and liberation that would be ours could we but get our minds off what the other is doing. Maybe like I, you find it much easier to look at the faults of others. They, after all, are inexcusable while there are reasons for mine and if you just knew them, you would agree with me it is OK for me to be this way.

OK, I'm being facetious. But I often catch myself thinking this way. There is really no humility in it either. The presupposition to think this way is hubris: the conventions don't apply to me and I am above them.

Since I can well imagine what peace and quiet there would be in all of Christianity were we to stop pointing the finger at each other, I guess it will have to start with me. I have to accept, as I do over and over again, that I have no ability to convince anyone of anything, only the Holy Spirit has that power. But I can start with me.

Of course, once I start to look seriously at myself and the ways I fall short, it will get worse before it gets better. If I am honest with myself about my sins and various dysfunctions, it's depressing is it not. Possibly you, dear Reader, are similar to I. I don't like to be made uncomfortable. I like to keep a hold of my view of myself. I don't want to find out that I am riddled with sin and ego. But the truth is that I am. And if you are like I, we invest a lot of energy and effort into maintenance of the view of ourselves that we prefer. But just imagine the sense of freedom and liberation that would be ours could we but turn our attention to our own sins and invite the Holy Spirit to have Her way with us to recreate within us our own individual and unique reflection of the image and likeness of God.


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