One of the Beatitudes that we have most trouble with is: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5). In some versions, “meek” is translated as “gentle” or “humble.” Either way, in an age when women continue to fight for their rights to equal pay and promotion for equal work and achievement, laborers strike for fair working conditions, and people of every age, race, and economic level demand to be treated with dignity, equality, and opportunity, the words “meekness” and “humility” seem like throwbacks to a darker age of repression, submission, sexism, and racism.
Humility will get you nowhere, right?
Wrong. At least Julian of Norwich thinks so. And not because she wasn’t a brave, oustpoken woman of her own time – risking censure, excommunication, imprisonment, or death for daring to write in the vernacular about theological and moral issues. Julian is keenly aware that true humility is the foundation of all true self-respect. But humility must be “true” and not “false.”
What’s the difference?
True humility acknowledges that our personal dignity is given to us by our Creator. We are created in the “image and likeness of God” (Gen 1:26-27). Therefore, we are noble creatures, worthy of being treated with the utmost respect. Our value does not come from who our parents were, where we were born, what kind of education we received, what kind of work we do, how much money we earn, how successful we become, but from who we are as individuals. Each one of us is a unique and irreplaceable “image of God,” even when we make wrong choices and sin. Julian insists that within each one of us is a “godly will” that can never completely assent to sin.
Thus, all our strivings for better education, greater opportunities, self-respect, financial security, creativity, a measure of success, loving relationships, and personal satisfaction – “the pursuit of happiness” – derive from our innate rights as children of God.
At the same time, true humility acknowledges our utter dependence on God for every breath, every heartbeat, every aspect of the functioning of our body and mind. We are born to recognize – and rejoice in! -- our essential need for God. We believe this need is not only for the gift of life itself, but extends to the daily graces we count on to become loving, compassionate human beings, to make a contribution to society, to bear with setbacks and suffering, and -- when we sin – to feel ourselves forgiven by God and given the strength to begin again. This recognition is not slavish; it is an “empowering” humility. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31)
False humility, on the other hand, is a lie.
“When we doubt God’s love for us under the guise of our unworthiness to be loved, it is a terrible temptation . . . even though it may not be numbered among the better-known seven deadly sins. Julian admits that self-doubt arises because, no matter how much we try to amend our lives, some of us look into our souls and see only our failings . . . Julian includes herself among those who feel such sorrow and shame that the soul is left barren of any spiritual consolation. And the worst thing of all is that such souls think this self-inflicted misery is the virtue of humility, whereas it is a state of wretchedness that alienates good people from God and leads souls into despair.” (See page 572 of Julian’s Gospel.)
For of all the properties of the blissful trinity, it is God’s will that we have the most secureness and delight in love. For love makes might and wisdom very humble to us. For just as by the courtesy of God he forgets our sin from the moment that we repent, exactly so he wills that we forget our sin, as regards our unskillfull heaviness and our doubtful dreads.
So true humility affirms our rightful freedom and dignity as children of a loving God, while false humility makes our minds fearful and slavish, dragging us down into the depths of despair over our sins. Yes, we must feel deeply sorry for wrongdoing and promise to make amends in whatever way we can. But we must also trust that "in falling and in rising we are ever preciously kept in one love." (See page 586 of Julian's Gospel.)
So the humble are blessed precisely because they know how much they need God, and how much they are continually loved and forgiven and healed by God. And as God’s true images, they shall inherit the "new" earth in the eternal kingdom of heaven.
And then our courteous lord shews himself to the soul merrily and with the happiest possible expression, with friendly welcoming, as if it had been in pain and in prison, saying thus: “My dear darling, I am glad that thou art come to me. In all thy woe I have ever been with thee, and now see for yourself my love, and let us be oned in bliss.” Thus are sins forgiven by grace and mercy, and our soul honorably received in joy, exactly as it shall be when it comes into heaven, as often as it comes back to God by the gracious werking of the holy ghost and the power of Christ’s passion (Julian’s Gospel, p. 428).
What a joyous way to think of entering the New Year – with the Lord greeting us most “merrily” and with “friendly welcoming” in all that is to be in 2014! Each one of us is, in truth, God’s darling, though we may not often feel like it. But that’s not God’s fault. It’s because we become so overwhelmed by life’s demands and distractions, by hurts and pain and rejection and daily disappointment, and also by the unending pursuit of our own agenda, that we don’t make the time to sit still – really still in meditation – and allow God to love and embrace us, deep within our souls.
What Julian reminds us of again and again throughout her Revelations, is that Christ is ever waiting for us, full of “love-longing” and peace. He is ready to comfort us, to forgive, to heal, to guide, to reassure, to enfold us into his Sacred Heart. We have only to run to him the way children do – both when they’re excited and full of joy and gratitude, and when they’ve fallen and gotten badly hurt by life. Then he will take full care of us, as the most tender Mother does, rejoicing with us or helping us back on our way. For strong and marvelous is that love which may not, nor will not, be broken for trespass (p. 528).
Indeed, as Julian understood so clearly: The blessed wounds of our savior are open and rejoice to heal us. The sweet, gracious hands of our mother are ready and diligent about us (p. 532). Christ is the consummate prodigal mother, always standing at the top of the hill, looking afar off, waiting for her children to come home (Lk 15:20). And we may “come home” every day, when we shut the door of our busy lives for a while in silent meditation and simply rest in his presence.
I wish you Christ’s blessings and love this New Year. And may Julian’s inspired Revelations guide and strengthen you on your path. And give you peace.
And, to greet the New Year, I invite you all to visit my newly created website: www.onethousandactsofpeace.org to discover a simple but powerful way to bring greater peace into your own lives and into the lives of your family members, your community, your country, and yes, into the whole world in 2014.
Happy New Year!
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.