Scott Griessel’s last post, with its upbeat-yet-uncomfortable quote from Walt Whitman about celebrating himself, reminds me of a similarly-edgy observation by author and activist, Marianne Williamson (which has often been misattributed to Nelson Mandela):
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world … As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.
Previous religious instruction or life experience may suggest that we should be more meek or humble. It’s the meek, not the fabulous, who will “inherit the earth,” right? Williamson’s statement, like Whitman’s, seems to skip the meekness part and jump straight to the inheritance!
Many assume that Jesus’ claim that “the meek shall inherit the earth” promises the lowly and dispossessed something to look forward to after they die. But Jesus speaks of an earthly inheritance, not a heavenly one. Could Williamson and Whitman be inviting us to imagine inheriting the earth not as a future hope but as present reality?
“But a meek person would never claim to be ‘brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous,” you say. Well, what is meekness, or humility, anyway? Read the following statement, made by big time wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, to his estranged daughter in the film The Wrestler (2008 Fox Searchlight). Does this statement strike you as more humble or meek than Williamson’s?
I just want to tell you, I’m the one who was supposed to take care of everything. I’m the one who was supposed to make everything okay for everybody. It just didn’t work out like that. And I left. I left you. You never did anything wrong. I used to try to forget about you. I used to try to pretend that you didn’t exist, but I can’t. You’re my girl. You’re my little girl. And now, I’m an old broken down piece of meat… and I’m alone. And I deserve to be all alone. I just don’t want you to hate me.
Robinson’s admission comes at a devastatingly tender and revealing moment in the film. Robinson has let his daughter down in ways that have hurt her and others badly. Now he seeks to make amends during a stroll along a New Jersey boardwalk. This scene serves as his confessional and brutal self-evaluation: “I’m an old broken down piece of meat.” Is this meekness? By modern understandings, perhaps, but not necessarily in the understanding of the ancients.
While Robinson seems perfectly sincere in his self-evaluation, the ancient Hebrews might claim that it is exactly this evaluation that has created the hurt between Robinson and his daughter in the first place. Not long after Robinson’s confessional in the film, he will betray his daughter’s trust once again, this time permanently. If you believe that you are nothing more than an old, broken piece of meat, you are likely to act like it. How can you grasp or accept an identity that brings you and others alive in the world if the only part you’re willing to claim is the lowest part?
If you wonder what true meekness or humility looks like, the ancient Hebrews would point you to the prophet Moses. According to the Torah, Moses was “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). Moses?! Isn’t Moses the one who courageously confronted Pharaoh in Egypt asking – no, demanding – that Pharaoh free the Israelite slaves from bondage? Is not Moses the one who, in the mythological imagination of the Bible, is said to have parted the Red Sea, boldly leading, and often goading, his people through the Sinai wilderness to the Promised Land? Moses was no wallflower, nor was he the slightest bit self-effacing or self-deprecating before any human being, no matter what the person’s stature. If Moses were meek or humble according to modern understanding, one would expect to find him before Pharaoh asking if there’s any extra work he can do.
The word “humble” comes from the Latin root, humus, or “earth,” which is also at the root of “human.” To be humble is to be “of the humus“ or earth. All humans are of the humus. Thus being humble implies not the slightest lowliness relative to other human beings. Someone who is of the humus is only lowly with respect to that which is above the humus: the divine. Moses impressed the Hebrews with his humility because the only power to which he would bow down was not Pharaoh (who was himself “of the humus“), but TheUnexpectedLove. Allowing that power to call the shots reordered Moses’ priorities, gave him a call and mission “from above,” and put him squarely in his sweet spot – which is precisely where it puts us when we follow its voice. The fact that Moses became immensely powerful through surrendering his life into the hands of God – whom I sometimes like to refer to as TheUnexpectedLove – is to be expected! If you wonder why, just look to those you know who have found their “sweet spot” or “calling” in life and live in it. Are their lives more, or less, powerful as a result? They may not be at the top of society’s social or professional pyramid, and adversity may be as much of a companion to these folks as success, but like Moses, they tap into the only real power that matters and thrive there.
Of course, being “of the humus” means that none of us are paragons of perfection. We constantly fall short of the ideals we set for ourselves and expect of others. We miss our mark, living far from our fullest power and potential, sometimes very far, for a very long time. Yet if we are to grasp true humility, we must be just as ready to claim the power and potential we were created with as we are the tendency to fall short of it. What does this power and potential look like for those “of the humus“?
This is a crucial distinction with far-reaching implications. Being “humble” or even “humbled” is not about being low or about being brought low, it is about being brought into reality, the reality of the power of spirit, and of God, relative to our pretensions.
So composed we can be of masks and measures of value bound to conceits of strength and power (money, status, and other fictions of power that crumble like loose, dried clay) that we are asking to be unveiled by a merciful God who thinks we can be much more.
By being humbled we are brought closer NOT lower. By being humble we acknowledge continually where real power lies– not in our pretensions, but in our accession to the divine mixing with, infusing, leading out from our earthiness, our humus.
In this understanding our celebration of ourselves is not boasting or braying, it is saying the evidence of spirit in us as demonstrated by our embrace of life and love is “fabulous,” i.e. worthy of the highest praise and evidenced by the deepest joy and acceptance of the requirements of spirit-in-the world.
Is there any greater worship of the High than to exalt the High in one’s own rooted example rather than to grovel and fall prostrate, which embodies, if anything, the irresponsible and cowardly denial of one’s divine inheritance and one’s attendant spiritual responsibility to oneself, to God, and to others.
My goal in life is to be a Skype guest on Darkwood Brew, but I fear I am too much of the humus to be considered. 🙂 I don’t have any credentials or degrees or publications which set me apart or which indicate that anyone should be interested in me or in what I have to say, so I have to stick to lowly blogging and unanswered posts. 🙂 (Honestly, I’m being funny–it’s hard use my dry, Wilde-esque wit on a blog! 🙂 Hence the smileys.)
My character defects have kept me from progressing very far in career, relationships, spirituality, etc. I’m never surprised when people don’t hire me or friends cease to like me because I’m not that easy to be around. This is not low self-esteem–it’s an awareness that I’m not perfect and I have no special qualities which anyone particularly needs. People can do without me just fine.
That being said, real love is when you can choose to care for someone like me, that is a guy who is a pain in the neck and has nothing you need. I have no contacts to help you climb your career ladder. I have no physical attributes to get you turned on. I can be judgmental, critical, whiny, and morose. I can offer loyalty and honesty, but who wants that?
So I send out my little missives into cyberspace, realizing there isn’t anyone who will see or understand. While this is frustrating, it’s all I can do for now, and it keeps me off the streets where I seem to get into trouble. Thanks for reading.
*OK, I’m not really Jesus, but you don’t know for sure, do you? Maybe Jesus is going to return through the Internet! 🙂