Humility:the Stairway to Heaven
“Now the ladder erected is our life on earth, and, if we humble our hearts, God will raise it to heaven.” RSB Chapter 7
The most humbling experience a human being can have is to apply for a job or position that he or she really wants and in the end get turned down and rejected. In the process one finds how important this job is to them and why they should or shouldn’t be the person in it. But also the process brings with it lots of introspection and questioning about who one really is in relation to that job and also what real self worth is about.
As I write, The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is in the process of looking for a new Bishop. It will not be long now before the final candidates will be announced and presented so that the Convention of delegates can discern the best choice for Bishop to serve one of the largest and perhaps important or at least sought after Diocese in the USA.
If you want to learn a little bit about humility, applying for a position like Bishop, which will quickly and promptly lead you quickly into that dirrection. I was once a candidate for suffragan-assistant Bishop here in the Diocese and in the process I discovered many things about myself that I did not know existed. There was inside me a pit of snakes just waiting to be opened up awoken and brought to light and latter destroyed like vampires brought to the light of day. I found demons that I didn’t even know existed most having to do with humility or the lack of. Early on I was already contemplating the style of Mitre and Crosier before I even had a second interview. That was one demon. Gladly I did not make the final cut.
“One day the Teacher said, “It is so much easier to travel than to stop.” “Why?” the disciples demanded to know. “Because,” the Teacher said, “as long as you travel to a goal you can hold on to a dream. When you stop, you must face reality.” “But how shall we ever change if we have no goals or dreams?” the disciples asked. “Change that is real is change that is not willed. Face reality and unwilled change will happen.”” Joan Chittister OSB
Part of the challenge of humility in life is that we live with the fallacy that we are in charge of our destiny and also in charge of other person’s destiny. In reality, none of us forge our own destiny as human beings. We are the product of many stops and starts, of support and help from others, and many times just the twist of fate with a little bit of divine grace poured in to teach us how small and insignificant we really are. When other people are deciding our fate such as search committees or interview committees we learn early on that we are NOT the center of the universe nor anyone else’s universe.
“Spiritual development is a process of continuing conversion. “What do you do in the monastery?” an ancient tale asks. “Oh, we fall and we get up. We fall and we get up,” the old monastic answers. In monastic spirituality, we never arrive; we are always arriving.” JC
Humility, like our salvation is best worked out in ‘fear and trembling’. Real change says Joan is frequently both unwilled and unexpected.. It is also many times not sought after but it finds us where we are in a given moment. Think back about those important and decisive moments in your life. This is where God comes in. As much as we would like to be in control and influence over the outcome of an important decision, usually the only real control we have in the end is the choice to accept or to reject what we are offered. Meanwhile real humility is about discovering the truth of every situation and how and where we fit in to that truth. It is slow, painstaking, and purifying of our thoughts and true intentions.
“Benedictine spirituality, real humility, demands that we hold only to give and that we gather only to share.” JC
In the Monastery humility is played out in many visible and tangible ways. The fact that everyone dresses the same as a monk and there is no apparent hierarchy except the Abbot who wears a simple cross is the first way. The fact that at the dinner table in the dining room or refectory every monk takes turn serving table at meals one week at a time from the abbot down to the novice who just entered the monastery. There is a deep truth in humility of a society or group, that refuses to make people into more than they really are. Here In the Monastery there are no Donald Trumps or Kim Kardashians. Money or influence does not give you status or importance but how you use your talent and gifts are what give you an entrance into the Kingdom. Real humility is about accepting each person as they are and giving them the same respect and worth despite external factors like status, money, influence, or persuasion. And real humility frees us up to be exactly who we are and to share ourselves and our talents, at the service of others with a glad and cheerful heart.
“We should care about important things. We should be attending to things of substance. We should be kind to people. We should be listeners.” JC
My annual time and visit here at the Monastery helps me to follow these simple rules of living a humble existence. To be reminded what truly is important about life, both who and what. To learn to be of service to others as I observe how well the Monks in the monastery serve each other at table and find a niche for the talents and gifts of each Monk no matter the age or time served in the Monastery. One of the Monks this week proudly brought me to the bakery where he works every morning from 3:00 am to 10:00 am 365 days a year. When our gifts are used and appreciated we are simply living into our true selves. We then can live into the image that God has in mind for us as we grow and change and become our best.
PIC Stairway at Melk Benedictine Abbey in Austria