From Humiliation to Humility to Humanity
The psalmist writes in Psalm 25:
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
I have heard Father Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM, say on more than one occasion that he “prays every day for at least one humiliation.” I always found that odd. Humiliation is what we seek to avoid. We teach our children not to humiliate others, and we seek to avoid humiliation for them as we also seek to build their own self-esteem.
So what does he mean by humiliation?
For years, I have been fascinated by the colorful play on words that are part of the second creation story … a play on words that has found its way into the English-speaking world. When first hear of God stooping down into the dirt to form the first human … literally a “man” … God breathes life into this man.
The name is given: Adam … derived from the Hebrew אדם (‘adam) who was created from the earth by God. Here we discover a play on words. The Hebrew אֲדָמָה (‘adamah) meaning “earth”) is that from which we have Adam. Eve then is fashioned of the same DNA in a later (somewhat humorous) part of the story as the companion because, as we are told, it is not good for us to be alone … we are created for community.
The English picks up on the same word play as we talk about what it means to be humans who have an intimate relationship with humus (dirt … our Mother Earth), and the means of arriving there is humility … or perhaps even humiliation.
So again, we come back to Fr. Rohr and his prayer for one humiliation each day. Humiliation is that which drives us into the ground … it feels like rubbing our faces in the dirt. But this is where I think it takes a turn perhaps more for those in places of privilege and power. As I white, middle-income, cisgendered, heterosexual male … oh, American … and Texan (can’t forget those qualifiers) … I am in a place well above the dirt. There are many marginalized people who all too easily are humiliated on a daily basis. Those on the tallest pedestal risk the greatest fall.
This isn’t something to brag about. It is from this place that I find it easy to disconnect from God … and disconnect from own humanity. In The Universal Christ, Fr. Rohr quotes Carl Gustav Jung. In his later years, one of Jung’s students read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and he asked Jung, “What has your pilgrimage really been?” Jung answered: “In my case Pilgrim’s Progress consisted in my having to climb down a thousand ladders until I could reach out my hand to the little clod of earth that I am.”
What we are talking about here in no way gives us permission to humiliate, marginalize, or harm others. What we are talking about here is how we use our own brokenness … our humiliation … as a journey to our most authentic humanity.
The flow is from humiliation to humility to humanity. That is perhaps the best way to talk about our journey in this season of Lent. It is about letting ourselves experience even our humiliation in a new way … by embracing it … in hopes that it will teach what true humility is all about.
As we then discover the gift of humility … confronting the fact that “we are dust and to dust we shall return” (remember Ash Wednesday) … we are a short step away from our most authentic humanity.
And if I remember correctly, it is the authentic human that God first created and with whom God seeks to be in relationship. This is finally the journey that takes us from shame and humiliation to the place where we experience this God of our salvation who is seeking only the most authentic you!
God of our Salvation: May we follow you on the path that leads us to our own humanity and to the great possible connection to your heart of grace! Amen.