February 9, June 10, October 10
The twelfth step of humility is that monks always manifest humility in their bearing no less than in their hearts, so that it is evident at the Work of God, in the oratory, the monastery or the garden, on a journey or in the field, or anywhere else. Whether sitting, walking, or standing, our heads must be bowed and our eyes cast down. Judging ourselves always guilty on account of our sins, we should consider that we are already at the fearful judgement, and constantly say in our hearts what the publican in the Gospel said with downcast eyes: “Lord, I am a sinner, not worthy to look up to heaven” (Luke 18:13). And with the Prophet: “I am bowed down and humbled in every way” (Ps. 37:7-9; Ps. 118:107).
Now, therefore, after ascending all these steps of humility, the monk will quickly arrive at the “perfect love” of God which “casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Through this love, all that we once performed with dread, we will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue. All this the Lord will by the Holy Spirit graciously manifest in us now cleansed of vices and sins.
Humility grows in a person moving from fear to love of God, from egocentricity to the God-self, to Christ in the heart. Humility is both the condition and fruit of this growth. It is a journey of incarnation. Our humanity is a life in unity of body, mind, and spirit. It follows that the humility growing in us naturally manifests in our body and actions.
For those ascending the ladder, their humility is obvious to others. The humble do not see their own humility, however. When humility is full, it is a gift forgotten in other-centredness; it grows forgotten as ego is left behind. The humble are themselves without notice or effort.
Each day, each moment, as we commit to the practice of meditation and community we are refined. As we live with ourselves and each other we reveal in our bearing where we are with ourselves and each other. Say your word, be as practical in kindness as you can, and so grow humbly into God. As this happens, effort falls away and we grow in virtue: the life of the Spirit.
We can see now that the work of meditation and community is to ascend the ladder into the fullness of love. We do not work to ascend the ladder; we ascend the ladder as we work. This ascent happens as we rub against distraction and each other. Chapter seven outlines the growth in humility that happens as we ascend. The question is, are we following the rule, experiencing its spirit, so that humility grows into love’s fullness?
The experience of love can make us more sensitive to our sin, to the ways we fall short in life. If this awareness did not happen in a humbling way, the experience of our limitation might overwhelm us. In a loving community self-knowledge can grow humbly. And as we move into love, the experience of a fearful judgement subsides because fear is not the God who is love.
The fullness of love is a gift already given and waiting. It is fear that stops us from living in love’s fullness. We consider ourselves not good enough for this love, to the point that we fear its experience. At its best community stands as a faithful and practical alternative to this lie of un-goodness. Love manifesting in a mature community is full enough to cast fear out. In humility, we learn to give in.
Submit to God, then; resist the devil, and he will run away from you. Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your minds, you waverers. Lament, mourn and weep! Your laughter must be turned to mourning, your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10, RNJB)