Humility: True and False
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.
Why are we fascinated by mystics?
Whether we’re Christian or non-Christian, religious or agnostic, we tend to find mystics intriguing. What is it about them that attracts us?
I think the answer lies in what we sorely miss from fast-paced and often-superficial relationships in contemporary life – and perhaps even from the practice of some organized religions: that is, a personal, intimate, and unquestionably clear experience of Divine Presence.
Make no mistake, mystics were ordinary people, just like us. They had to deal with all the stresses and crises of their own
lives – and all the trivia – just as we do. But what they experienced of the divine dimension went way beyond what we would call “normal,” or even possible. They saw and heard what we have not . . .they understood truth in ways that scientists and scholars and ordinary folk do not . . . and they were changed forever by their mystical experiences.
In turn, mystics changed the world. Perhaps, that's what makes them so fascinating.
What exactly IS mystical experience?
In a general sense, mystical experience is a profound interaction with a transcendent Reality that far surpasses ordinary ways of knowing or perceiving.
It is spontaneous, unbidden, and completely passive – without human effort or intervention.
It is immediately experienced as coming from a divine source. Thus, whatever is revealed bears the conviction of proceeding from divine authority.
Mystical revelation provides illumination about the nature of God, or truth, or love, or life, or death, or eternity, or some aspect of religious belief that the recipient could not have conceived of by him/herself.
It may also answer burning questions, heal spiritual wounds, even inspire a total conversion to a new way of life.
Sometimes the mystical experience is so transcendent and overwhelming, the mystic is unable to describe it in words.
Yet the mystic is often led to try to convey the import of the revelation in prose or poetry.
Whatever the experience is, it is indelible and therefore,
unforgettable to the recipient.
It produces a surpassing joy and sublime peace that totally alters the subject’s mindset. It may also evoke a sense of ecstatic, blissful unity with the divine.
How does the mystical encounter take place?
It may be “seen” or “heard” exteriorly – as a thoroughly convincing and undeniable vision and/or voice speaking directly to the recipient.
Or it may be experienced interiorly – as a vivid imaginative
apparition, "a still, small voice," or a sudden flash of purely intellectual illumination without any associated image or sound.
In any case, the vision provides clarity, not confusion; incontestable certitude, not doubt.
If words are heard, they are heard in the mystic’s own language and are completely understandable and vitally empowering. The full import of their meaning, however, may only unfold over a longer period of time with prayerful examination.
The mystical experience may be demanding in what it asks, cautionary in what it warns against, consoling in what it reveals, enlightening in what it teaches, prophetic in what it predicts. It may be conveyed by symbolism that has to be deciphered long after the experience, or specify action that takes an entire lifetime. But it is always a very precise and personal directive.
In terms of Christian mystics, it is considered essential that the mystical revelations do not contradict revealed truth or dogmas of the faith. Otherwise, such experiences might be coming from self-delusion and lead to heresy.
In every way, the Revelations of Divine Love experienced by Julian of Norwich fulfill these positive criteria of mystical experience. And, unlike some mystics who may seem to us extreme or even incomprehensible in their mystical writings, Julian’s humble and vivid way of recounting her revelations makes her one of the most accessible - and most appealing -
of all mystics.
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.