Narcissism or Humility?

Since the inauguration of the new president a few days ago, I’ve been sorting out what Benedictive values have to say about this time. As part of my spiritual practice, I’ve been reading Sr. Joan Chittister’s Book, The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century. This book divides the Rule into daily sections and provides Sr. Joan’s commentary on each section. Today’s section is about having a “humble spirit.”

“If the modern age has lost anything that needs to be rediscovered, if the Western world has denied anything that needs to be owned, if individuals have rejected anything that needs to be professed again, if the preservation of the globe in the twenty-first century requires anything of the past at all, it may well be the commitment of the Rule of Benedict to humility.”

Humility is not often considered to be a necessary virtue in our culture at this time. In fact, we are more likely to applaud and reward self-serving, self-promoting and self-aggrandizing behavior. Yet, humility is essential if humanity is to survive in the long-term. Humility means to have a sense of limits and is, as Sr. Joan writes, “the basis for right relationships in life.” We must recognize how we are connected in this world, where we come from, to whom we owe respect.

In the great story of our planet, humanity itself is just a little blip at the very end of this edge of time. In the book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone provide a graphic that puts all of earth time into one day. Each hour of the day represents 187.5 million years, and humanity only appears on earth in the last 5 seconds of the last hour. We are barely begun, and yet, in our arrogance we ignore the peril we have put ourselves in, and thereby threaten almost all life on earth with extinction. The nuclear weapons, global warming, extinction of pollinators, poisoning of air, soil and water are all very real dangers. How these dangers may interact, we do not know.

Humility acknowledges that we do not know. Humility is far-seeing, looking towards the seventh generation to come, acting for its benefit. Humility does not act for immediate gain now. Humility recognizes that whenever we act only for self, only for right now, only within partisan interests, we all lose. As, Sr. Joan writes, “Winning, owning, having, consuming, and controlling are not the high posts of the spiritual life. And this is the basis for social revolution in the modern world.”

I believe that we desperately need a social revolution, as well as a spiritual revolution in our world. And we need it to be soon. To that end, I am doubling down on my spiritual practice, as are many others I know. I am trying to conserve where I can, to lessen some of the impacts of my living in a consumer culture. I am studying and learning about nonviolence and social/political organizing. And, I am acknowledging that these efforts are tiny, so encourage anyone who reads this to write in the comments what you are doing, so that we can learn from each other, and cheer each other on, encourage each other to keep going.humility-7

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