The third step of humility is that we submit to the prioress or abbot in all obedience for the love of God, imitating Jesus Christ, of whom the apostle says: “Christ became obedient even to death” (Phil 2.8).
The humility implicit in chapter five (on obedience) is now made explicit here. If we wish to become the love each can uniquely be, if we are to be, now, the everlasting life that is to come – then we need to become more and more humble. Again, to be humble is to be ourselves. We are made by Love to be love.
There is no love without sacrifice. Sacrifice is the offering of ourselves for and in love. In the deep of love is the simple and humble question: what am I willing to die for? As we humbly grow in love, the answer to this question swells the heart. Is it our children? Our community? Our vision for life? This part of chapter seven asks us to discover for ourselves our cross: what is it that exposes your heart; what makes it compassionate? What are you willing to die for?
A humble life is never lukewarm. The mantra and community teach us this. Each day is a learning in saying yes to what practical love involves. Each day can be an assent (and descent) of the ladder. In each temptation to distraction, and in each resistance to co-operation, live an invitation to die to ego. The journey of attention into love is indeed a humbling one.
Growing in humility is also about giving up control. This is a hard lesson. Our desires to control are often about survival. Humility asks us to go beyond, to transcend, the survival instinct. This can only be done in a loving and safe environment. In community, with grace, we can move beyond fight, flight, or freeze: we can become vulnerable. A loving heart is not fearful; it is vulnerable. A vulnerable heart is empty of power so that the power of love may fill it.
What happens, though, if the community is not safe enough for vulnerability? In particular, what do we do if the leader is not representing Christ and our instinct to survive stirs? Where is humility here? Humility is not about submission to abuse. Humility will be in how we approach the situation: including others, without regard to ambition, practically and gently speaking to the ways we believe leadership has strayed from Christ. In this we express something of the ‘inner abbot/abbess’ that Christ is for all who follow the Rule.
Christian leadership is vulnerable leadership; it is open to what each of us, uniquely, have to offer. This involves dialogue. In dialogue we learn what it is to affirm ourselves and to be affirmed by others. Together we can come to a deeper appreciation of viewpoints and motivations. And then, in saying yes to what community might ask of us, we are free to discover ourselves in our decisions for communal life.
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had (Philipians 2:1-5, NET).