Photo by Brian Siewiorek at Flickr.com

The tradition puts us in a tough spot today.  Most of the Christian virtues, like patience, kindness and mercy, connect with us at a deep, intuitive level.  But humility?  Not so much.  We do not send our loved ones into the world wishing them a “humble day.”  We do not look forward to parent/teacher conferences hoping we will hear how humble our child is.  We cheer when the humble step up and fight for justice.  In this connected world we have taken self-esteem and self-promotion to new levels.

What actually is humility?  A recurring definition comes from the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.  The text says Jesus knew “where he had come from and where he was going” and then prepared to humbly serve.  Humility has something to do with knowing who we truly are.  The good news from the gospel today is that humility is something we can practice – like scales on a piano. Jesus invites us today to practice humility and create room for who we truly are.

Practicing the Presence of God

It is interesting that in today’s gospel Jesus does not tell the disciples to be humble.  Rather he tells them to look for opportunities to do humble things, such as taking the lower position at a status conscious event (like certain meals in Jesus’ day).  Since the disciples should know where they came from and where they are going they do not need to play status games.  Another example Jesus provides is to invite people over for dinner who do not increase our status and who cannot reciprocate.  Our true self does not need to conspire for honor.  We are free to choose humility.

But there is a dynamic here deeper than freedom.  Doing humble acts is like practicing scales to play piano in the symphony that is God.  It is practicing the presence of God.  It sounds odd to say it out loud, but God is humble.  There are images everywhere in the songs and prayers of the tradition of a great and powerful God that, in short, are not very humble.  That is why Jesus was, and is, so difficult for people and why imaging God as Love is so critical.  God is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude.  God does not insist on getting God’s own way.  God believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (1 Corinthians 13.)  Practicing humility puts us on the same frequency as a humble God.

We also know doing humble acts is practicing the presence of God from our own experience.  Whenever we glimpse the infinite in our finite world, whether it be seeing children at play, a flock of birds descending, a vulnerable moment with a friend, a piece of music or art, a moment of deep prayer, the moment of awareness is always humbling! At these moments we know we had nothing at all to do with the awareness.  We did not produce it; it was given.  In these moments of love and clarity our worries, passions and immediate desires are exposed to be so small. Our preconceptions of reality are revealed as so inadequate.  Humility is always part of the package when we experience the infinite God in our finite world.

A few weeks ago (August 10th) the readings challenged us to sit down and get reacquainted with our false selves – that part of us that is our outer container that is compelled to protect us, promote us and project us into the world.  This is not our true self, it is not humble.  The great news is that the false self is very uncomfortable with humility!  It retreats from humble acts, creating room for the true self to grow.  When we do what Jesus says in this gospel we get as close as we can to a “false-self free zone” and we get a good look at our true selves.

A Modern Take on Jesus’ Instruction on Humility

If humility is practicing the presence of God then we should see evidence outside our tradition as well.  The philosopher Eckert Tolle in his classic “The New Earth,” has a modern take on practicing humility as a path to more conscious living.  Although he does not write from a specifically Christian perspective, he loves this gospel reading on humility.  He says we do not have to look for opportunities to perform a humble act – life has a way of bringing to us humbling events where we are at times embarrassed, rejected or neglected. Tolle recommends a practice to intentionally avoid reacting with outrage, anger and retaliation at these times and be alert to how the humility feels. He says if we practice this a few times we “come to realize that nothing REAL has been diminished.” In fact he says we will find more room inside and it is much more effective to pursue justice from this “roomier” position.

We were at home “channel surfing” the other evening and saw the end of the movie “Sweet Home Alabama” with Reese Witherspoon that echoes Tolle.  It is a love triangle movie where Reese leaves the very good looking, very connected guy from the big city at the altar and goes back to her childhood sweetheart.  The hunk was played by Patrick Dempsey (of Grey’s Anatomy fame) and he is the type that never gets left at the altar.  He reacts to the embarrassing rejection with grace and almost mystical awareness that it was healthy for him to spend time contemplating on how this feels.  He got bigger.  His mother was there and played the role of the false self, reacting in outrage at the indignity of the rejection and inciting modest violence.  She got smaller.  This is a great picture of what Tolle is talking about.

Inside each of us is someone who knows where we came from and where we are going.  This is who we truly are.  Practicing acts of humility as Jesus suggests is a way to create room for this part of ourselves.  Let’s help each other learn to create room for the presence of God.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Homily – Creating Room For Reality

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Saturday evening,  August 31, 2013

Liturgy for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Focus text: Luke 14:7-14 (“choosing the lower place”)

 

Photo by Brian Siewiorek at Flickr.com

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