Humility is a strange quality; unlike joy, love, kindness or any of those typically sweet qualities Christians are supposed to value highly; humility is painful.
True humility, a quality many mystics wrote about (often anonymously) , consists not of feeling humiliation or being humiliated by other people, or even by oneself. Nor has humility to do with false modesty -pretending to other people not to recognise gifts or achievements. It is not even true modesty, which is a sweet self-effacing demeanour that’s refreshing but rare these days. Humility is not ‘low-self-esteem’ though it has to do with self-worth.
Humility is more about looking for God, and being aware of just how holy God is. It is about bearing in mind, regardless of any apparent earthly success or qualities, just how almighty God is, how knowing, how utterly transcendent. And holding in that awareness, a sense of our own smallness, unholiness and frailty. Humility is more about true perspective than about our relationship to one another as human beings.
It is shaking, shattering, ego-busting in its effects; true humility almost leaves you nothing of yourself to hang onto -except… and this is the wonder of it… our relationship to God -we are not as insignificant ants or worthless dross to God -we are utterly precious, beloved in his sight. And this tips the balance from pain to wonder.
Humiliation, is all too easy to come by, fear of humiliation can cripple us -we will not risk a new thing, a new relationship, a new role, for fear of the humiliation that may follow: Nor will we risk a repeated situation where we felt previously humiliated.
Here at college, where there is an emphasis on anglo-catholic liturgy… a choreographed and measured liturgical worship, formulated (when done well) to engage the body and all the senses, in the service and praise of God; humiliation is also a risk.
Some of us, less experienced than many others, set out to do things correctly and are bound to fail the exacting standards set by other people. This can evoke a sense of anger and humiliation -how can they be so critical when they are supposed to be Christian… this kind of humiliation is wrong, unkind, and sadly a result of our human natures. BUT:
There is a second layer of activity going on in this kind of situation, and for those of us who have grown accustomed to a comfortable experience in Church, it can easily be dismissed, rejected out of hand, along with the humiliation inflicted by our peers, as unkind and unchristian. This is not so…
When we are humbled, humiliated in the service of God, out of place and out of joint, adrift amongst critics and desperate to just get away from a situation which seems: painful, ridiculous, unfair, unreasonable… there we are also able to get a sense of God: of our lowly place beside his majesty, our reverence beside his glory… But more than that – more precious by far, is that if we accept this tense and painful sense of humiliation from God, then we will recieve another gift, and that is God’s companionship -since, from his place of Glory, he came to recieve humiliation, far beyond what most of us will ever suffer… humility that meant he accepted mockery and painful crucifixion at the hands of a world that should have loved him, but didn’t want to know him.
So do not be too quick to avoid humiliation, to restore your personal pride and shore-up your self-esteem… you and I are only very small and insignificant in the world’s eyes, very brief is our lifespan in the course of history and our understanding is limited… but seek the glory of God, and accept the gift of humility, and with it, you may recieve the knowledge of the love of God and the peace which passes understanding.