During this past week’s episode, Chris suggested that we bloggers were acting a bit like the astronauts who early on realized that perhaps their real mission was not to move out beyond earth, but to turn the camera around and look back at the earth. I like the idea that our quest is not so much to marvel at the wonder that is out there as to get some perspective on the wonder that is right here and be filled with the proper awe.
Eric picked up on the idea that this wondering has a connection to humility, not in the way of getting down on ourselves but by getting high on God. Again, I like the idea that we find the mix of the lowly earth (and earthlings) lifted up by the visitation of the high God. Echoing through the weekly conversations in this series is the challenge from Rumi not to see the drop in the ocean but the ocean in the drop. This whole concept that we are made of star guts (thank you Mary Ann’s daughter 🙂 ) is both exalting and humbling in a Taoist sort of way. There is a balance going on between head and heart as we grapple with these amazing scientific discoveries and the reaction to them. Even when I haven’t been able to keep up with the data the guest scientists have been spewing at high speed, I have enjoyed the enthusiasm they have demonstrated in sharing it.
During the chat this week, it occurred to me that the theological struggle to comprehend how Jesus can be fully human and fully God may find some relief in comprehending how the elements of all on earth is different from the elements in the rest of the universe only in location. Perhaps the full divinity of Jesus rests in his ability to fully realize the divinity that is already present in all that is. When I use my head analytically to add 100% and 100% I get the impossible 200% but when I use my mind in search of wonder as the enthusiastic scientists on this series have done, I marvel at the challenge of finding an explanation for the observable reality of this 200% God/man. Perhaps the Chalcedon definition was the a product of the product of the brightest minds of the fifth century marveling at creation. And the bright minds who have been guests during this series, whether acknowledging it explicitly or not, have shown that they have God within, for that is the etymological meaning of enthusiasm (from the Greek, en+theos).
Speaking of etymology, there is another connection between this star dust and humility. We get the word humble from the Latin humilis meaning literally “on the ground,” from humus, which means earth. We begin this Lenten journey remembering on Ash Wednesday that we come from this humble earth and we will return to it in death. We end the journey on Easter celebrating that the one who is beyond the universe has also come to this humble earth and leads us in the journey of rising beyond death to take our proper place as stardust among the stars. Or as Psalm 8 puts it, a little lower than the angels. As we get high on God and turn the camera back toward the dust from which we came we shouldn’t be surprised when we get a little smudge on the lens. Just like the ash that dusts our foreheads at the beginning of the journey, it is that humility through which we see the greatness of the creation and the creator.
Hey, Ian, have you been sneaking peaks at the draft of my next book, Gifts of the Darkwood? LOL Here’s what I’ve written on humility/humus:
“Of the Humus”
Author and activist Marianne Williamson once made a surprising observation about human identity (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.
Does the claim that you are brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous, make you feel uncomfortable? Previous religious instruction or life experience may suggest that we should be more meek or humble – in the truly self-negating sense. It’s the meek, not the fabulous, who will “inherit the earth,” right? Williamson’s statement 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 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? Consider the following statement, made by big time wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, to his estranged daughter in the film The Wrestler. Does his 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 confession 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? Meekness or humility involves not just an embrace of our emptiness but a turning to a higher power that fulfills our identity.
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 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 bowing 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 to God. Allowing the Spirit’s power to fill him like water from a lake reordered Moses’ priorities, gave him a call and mission “from above,” and put him squarely in his calling – which is precisely where it puts us when we get empty like this. The fact that Moses became immensely powerful through surrendering his life into the hands of God to be expected! If you wonder why, just look to those you know who seem to have paid attention to those “sweet spot” moments and embraced emptiness and uncertainty in order to follow their sense of call in life. Are their lives more, or less, powerful as a result? They may not be at the top of society’s social or professional pyramid, 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 or virtue. 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 the Dark Wood gift of emptiness, 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. Surrendering to the divine within us is part of what it means to have humility.
This is lovely, Ian. Thank you for all these connections. (And yes, we have heard the “of the humus” here in Omaha!)