The fifth step of humility is that we do not conceal from the abbot or prioress any sinful thoughts entering our hearts, or any wrongs committed in secret, but rather confess them humbly. Concerning this Scripture exhorts us: “Make known your way to the Holy One and hope in God” (Ps. 37:5). And again, “Confess to the Holy One, for goodness and mercy endure forever” (Ps. 106:1; 118:1). So too the prophet: “To you I have acknowledged my offence; my faults I have not concealed. I have said: Against myself I will report my faults to you, and you have forgiven the wickedness of my heart” (Ps. 32:5).
We can be told these days that we are our own experts on life. To an extent this may be true, however a sign of this growing expertise is the realisation that we, by ourselves, do not really know much. Life holds more mystery than anything else. Growing in humility is to experience this and to accept it. Healthy community has people in it who have depthed enough in this mysterious expertise and are still growing in it. These people, those who are ‘experts’ on ascending the ladder, are often the most loving and compassionate among us – though, at first glance, this may not be obvious. Still, their ongoing journey into mercy has become a presence and guide for others. When our own journey becomes too much, it can be a time to seek help from these wise ones.
We can see the sharing of our frailties and shortcomings as a big risk. We find ourselves coming up against a wall of internal resistance. Will I be rejected, judged, condemned? Will this so-called wise one be as hard on me as others have been, or as hard as I have been on myself? Will they expose the hidden ‘truth’ I tell myself, that I am not simply not good enough? Will what I fear most come to pass: my own rejection and alienation?
Benedict consoles us with words from the Psalms: hope, mercy, goodness, forgiveness – these are words of divine truth, descriptors of divine life and intention. The Godly are of these, with them there is nothing to fear.
However, often we do not say much about our internal struggles with ourselves and others until it becomes too much to bear. Speaking something in anger and resentment can risk the health of our relating and take a lot of negotiation to work our way through. If we are committed enough to the communal life, then this negotiating can become great blessing. It could be, however, something that we are not yet ready enough for. Often the communal life is about learning to live with the ways we all struggle to be with ourselves and each other. This is why it is so important to have the ways we are transformed by divine love held at the heart of community life.
Learning to share our struggles with wise and loving leadership is one way into this divine transformation. The wise and compassionate are discrete, and our sharing can be a way through which grace can move and heal. Humility is a fruit of this sharing. And part of this process may involve sharing our struggles, as gently and honestly as we can, with those we are struggling with.
At Meditatio House we have regular weekly meetings at which we can practice honesty and sharing. One advantage of committing to these times is that we have the chance to learn what it is to experience and perhaps move through our own internal resistances. It may be all we can do to sit quietly with them, practicing gentle awareness, without thought or condemnation.
We may speak and grow in the knowledge that we live in a world of our own limited perceptions and projections. At our weekly meetings we practice speaking (and discovering) the truth about ourselves and others in growing love and forgiveness. This is a humbling practice.
We also have the opportunity to meet regularly with community leaders and teachers both within and outside the house. It may be too hard for us, or perhaps not appropriate, that we share with leadership in the house. We have learnt that there is value in seeking counsel from the broader community that supports us.
And, of course, throughout all this we pray and meditate together – another way at the heart of community through which divine love transforms and heals. In meditation we practice forgetting our worries and anxieties. In this God secretly heals and prepares us for all that the communal life has to offer, its purpose and meaning, its joy and challenge.
Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. (1Peter 3:8-9, NRSV)