Thursday, March 10, 2011

getting down

This morning, one of my facebook friends announced that he was uncluttering his "friend" list. He said that due to the sheer number of said "friends," he was finding himself overlooking the important people in his life. Never an easy position to be in - whittling life down to the truly important things. In an interesting twist, he has asked his many "friends" to purge themselves from his list. Are any of us that brave? That humble? To "defriend" and reject ourselves in order to assist our "friend?" It is an odd invitation, though I dare say, perhaps more familiar to us than we might realise.

Last night I led a discussion on humility. I took some of the core values from the Benedectine Order (one of my side research projects) and read a few stories to illustrate the foundational part that humility plays (or rather, should play) in our lives. Here are a few ideas that came out:

1. Listening. So often we are occupied with outside stimuli such as different media, work, music, entertainment, and people around us that even when we get alone for some quiet, our thoughts are not at rest. We are also relentlessly self-occupied. Benedictine monks set aside several hours each day to pray and let the scriptures flow through their minds. They do not merely respond and react to what is happening around them, but draw on the riches they cultivate deep in their soul. They listen to God. This in turn, enables them to be attune to the needs of others. There is a story of two people who were walking along a busy sidewalk in New York City. One of them stopped and said, "Listen. Do you hear that cricket?" The other was astounded. How could his companion hear a cricket in the din of the city? The listener explained. "We hear what we are trained to hear." He then dropped some money onto the street and immediately several people stopped and looked. [1] What are we training ourselves to hear?

2. Obedience. This is a rather harsh word to our modern ears. We prefer to speak of freedom, choice, and mutual respect. It reflects how little we know about humility, because by this subtle aversion to obedience and submission, we show that we consider ourselves to be the supreme authority in our own lives. A benevolent authority, perhaps, but supreme nonetheless. One day, the abbot at Blue Cloud Abbey told Brother Rene that he would be playing the organ to accompany the chanting of psalms in the service. Brother Rene no doubt informed the Abbot that he did not know how to play the organ, but the order from the Abbot remained. Rene was given two weeks to learn. He did. The community was well served by his music and worship, and visitors never guessed that he was a novice on the instrument.[1] This is obedience in action. It serves, it learns, it does not grumble at the tasks it is given. We will not discover what God can enable us to do if we don't venture into the territory of difficult obedience.

3. Lack of status. Our society is very much set up to honour and recognize different marks of status, so we spend a lot of energy not only acquiring or chasing these, but talking about them and flaunting them if we have them. Educational degrees, impressive resumes, designer clothing, contacts with important people, awards, number of hits on twitter or facebook, lucrative contracts, distinctions and recognitions we have garnered, etc. We splash them liberally into our interaction with others so that they recognize our value. Unfortunately, these things have nothing to do with value. Love is what makes us valuable, and we are all loved by God. A recent MBA graduate, asked by his employer to sweep the walk, reminded the superior of his status: "I have an MBA!" The employer responded, "No problem. I'll show you how to do it."[3] Status only hinders us in serving and loving. Let status fall away and let humility grow.

Welcome, humility! May you become a permanent resident instead of intermittent guest in my life.

This is a picture of Jazz taken from a walk last summer. She likes to get up high and see the world from that vantage point (it is how cats show dominance). Here, she climbed onto a ledge at the top of a garage and sat there, out of my reach. All I could do was take a picture until she decided it was time to come down.

[1] Story adapted from Dennis Okholm's Monk Habits for Everyday People (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007), 49.
[2] Okholm, 65.
[3] Okholm, 105.

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