Saturday, 21 March 2015

Humility: Grounded in our Common Humanity

I am a follower of David Whyte on facebook, there is something about the way he writes that touches the soul of me. He recently posted the following extract and it chimed with some thoughts I'd been having

“Ground” by David Whyte

Ground is what lies beneath our feet. It is the place where we already stand; a state of recognition, the place or the circumstances to which we belong whether we wish to or not. It is what holds and supports us, but also what we do not want to be true; it is what challenges us, physically or psychologically, irrespective of our hoped for needs. It is the living, underlying foundation that tells us what we are, where we are, what season we are in and what, no matter what we wish in the abstract, is about to happen in our body, in the world or in the conversation between the two.

To come to ground is to find a home in circumstances and in the very physical body we inhabit in the midst of those circumstances and above all to face the truth, no matter how difficult that truth may be; to come to ground is to begin the courageous conversation, to step into difficulty and by taking that first step, begin the movement through all difficulties, to find the support and foundation that has been beneath our feet all along: a place to step onto, a place on which to stand and a place from which to step.

‘Ground’ in “Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.” © David Whyte and Many Rivers Press 2015

David's words chimed with thoughts I'd had around being at home within our own humanity and that to be fully human is to be grounded in the one earth, to be human is to be truly humble

In my last "blogspot" I explored the idea of home, of coming home, of their being “No Place Like Home”. I talked about being at home in our own being, in our own selves. About experiencing this sense of belonging within our own souls. It has been a theme I explored quite a bit these last few weeks. I made reference to the Operatta “Clari, or, the Maid of Milan”, where the phrase "There's no place like home" comes from. The complete couplet reads “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam. Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”

It’s the words “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home” that have been gently swimming around in my heart, these last few days, this idea of home being a humble place. About home being this place where we find ourselves and being grounded in the place that we find ourselves. This idea that being at home is being at peace with ourselves. That when we are at home with ourselves we can be at home with everyone else.

Now this got me thinking about what it means to be truly humble.

I suspect that to be truly humble is to be at home in our own humanity, to be grounded in our own reality. I also suspect that humility has something to do with being grounded in our shared humanity too. To be truly humble is to recognise that we are a part of something larger than our singular selves.

I connected with this even more deeply at about 9.30am on Friday morning, 20th May, as I and millions of others stood outside and experienced a solar eclipse. It was a beautiful and eerie experience, that united people up and down the land and others lands too.

I have recently been attending a series of Lent Breakfasts talks hosted by Churches Together in Urmston, during one we explored the subject of “Humility” as a virtue, specifically looking at the concept of humbling ourselves before God. Within Christianity this is enshrined in the image of the humble servant and message of self-sacrifice. Some of the conversation troubled me as it seemed to portray humanity and humility in a very negative light. There is more to both humanity and humility than this I think.

When I think of being truly humble it is a verse from the Book of Micah Ch6 v 8 that always comes to mind “He has told you what is good, to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” I love these words mainly because they are not about being meek and mild and bowing and scraping, they are not self-deprecating or denigrating. Too often humility is seen in this way, particularly from a religious perspective, as kind of excuse for suffering and or meekness. To me this is not true humility; true humility is about recognising the virtues of doing justice, living in love and recognising our common humanity.

I do not believe that humility is about shrinking and bowing down and becoming servile and scraping. Instead it is about recognising our full humanity and in doing so recognising the duty that this brings both to ourselves, our world, the people we share it with and our God that we walk humbly with.

I believe that  Dag Hammarskjold, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, expressed the true meaning of humility when he said:

"Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is self-exaltation. To be humble is not to make comparisons. Secure in its reality, the self is neither better nor worse, bigger nor smaller, than anything else in the universe. It is-nothing, yet at the same time one with everything."

Humility is an interesting word, when understood correctly. It has its roots in the word “humus” which means earth. By the way human and humanity share the very same root, something that Forrest Church often spoke of. In “Bringing God Home: A Traveller’s Guide” he wrote:

“The word human has a telling etymology, my very favourite. All the words that relate to it – humane, humanitarian, humor, humility, humble, and humus – are illuminating. From dust to dust, the mortar of mortality binds us fast to one another. Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike trace their ancestry to the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, where God proclaims to Eve and Adam (whose name means “out of red clay”), “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Being humble is connected to being grounded. To be truly humble is to recognise our honest place in the world and life in general, whilst recognising that life itself does not revolve around us. Humility is at the core of my understanding of my Unitarian faith, I believe that we are a truly humble faith. Our tradition is open and accepting, we welcome diversity, we honour one another’s points of view. Are these not by their very nature acts of humility? And in doing so are we not accepting that each of us have limits to our own individual perspectives; that we need to listen to one another in order to see new and deeper truths; that we cannot make sense of anything alone. This is free religion in its essence, this coming together and experiencing more than we could have imagined alone, by coming together, in love. We honour and acknowledge that on our own we cannot know everything and that by listening to others who may see and understand things differently we are challenged to expand our understandings, doing so in love and respect and honouring these differences. Humility is about rejoicing in the challenge that others who see things differently can reveal to us and therefore expand our understanding. This is encapsulated beautifully by Margaret Wheatley's meditation "Disturb Me Please" There follows an extract from it:

"What if we were to be together and listen to each other's comments with a willingness to expose rather than to confirm our own beliefs and opinions? What if we were to willingly listen to one another with the awareness that we each see the world in unique ways? And with the expectation that I could learn something new if I listen for the differences rather than the similarities?

We have this opportunity many times in a day, everyday. What might we see, what might we learn, what might we create together, if we become this kind of listener, one who enjoys the differences and welcomes in disturbance? I know we would be delightfully startled by how much difference there is. And then we would be wonderfully comforted by how much closer we became, because every time we listen well, we move towards each other. From our new thoughts and our new companions, we would all become wiser.

It would be more fruitful to explore this strange and puzzling world if we were together. It would also be far less frightening and lonely. We would be together, brought together by our differences rather than separated by them. When we are willing to be disturbed by newness rather than clinging to our certainty, when we are willing to truly listen to someone who sees the world differently, then wonderful things happen. We learn that we don't have to agree with each other in order to explore together. There is no need to be joined together at the head, as long as we are joined together at the heart."

Here Margaret captures near perfectly the concept of like hearted rather than like minded people, that I wrote of in a recent blogspot

That’s free religion, that’s a humble approach to faith. That’s true humility and humanity. That’s being grounded in my book.

To be humble is to realise our true humanity and to recognise that we are formed from the same earth as everyone else and that we have that same spirit within us as everyone else. It is to recognise the oneness of us all. It is also about standing in the place where we find ourselves and accepting that reality. It’s about living in the mud and muck that is life. This is where life is and this is where we truly belong.

To be truly humble and therefore human is also to recognise our individual finiteness, that our individual lives will one day come to an end. It is to recognise that we are not all powerful and that we need one another and to be a part of something Greater than ourselves. It’s about immersing ourselves in the ground in which we stand and the world in which we live, there is something about a collective wholeness in all of this, it's about how we treat one another. This I hear in those words from Micah “to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”

This is not the passivity that can sometimes come with ideas around humility. Walking humbly with God, is about being grounded wholly in the life in which we live. It’s about opening all our senses to all that we live within, even that which makes us uncomfortable, it’s about total immersion in life. It’s not about trying to control or manipulate life, but about being at one with it all.

To be truly humble and therefore human is to recognise that we are not isolated beings but truly connected and dependent on one another and all life, it is about being grounded in reality. Humility is in some ways a call to action, to fully engage with the reality in which we find ourselves and do what we can to improve the aspect of creation in which are feet are planted. In so doing we will know that we truly belong here.

To be truly humble and therefore fully human is to be at home both within ourselves and the ground in which we stand. It’s about being fully immersed in reality, it’s to be truly connected to the reality that lays within us and beyond and to recognise that there is a oneness in all life, that we play a small and vital role in creating.

Humility is to be grounded in our common humanity.

I will end this little chip of a blogspot with the following words by Ralph N Helverson “Impassioned Clay" followed by “Poem of Perfect Miracles.” By Walt Whitman

Deep in ourselves resides the religious impulse.
Out of the passion of our clay it rises.

We have religion when we stop deluding ourselves that we are self-sufficient, self-sustaining, or self-derived.

We have religion when we hold some hope beyond the present, some self-respect beyond our failures.

We have religion when our hearts are capable of leaping up at beauty, when our nerves are edged by some dream in the heart.

We have religion when we have an abiding gratitude for all that we have received.

We have religion when we look upon people with all of their failings and still find in them good; when we look beyond people to the grandeur in nature and to the purpose in our own heart.

We have religion when we have done all that we can, and then in confidence entrust ourselves to the life that this larger than ourselves.

“Poem of Perfect Miracles.” By Walt Whitman

REALISM is mine, my miracles,
Take all of the rest—take freely—I keep
but my own—I give only of them,
I offer them without end—I offer them to you
wherever your feet can carry you, or your
eyes reach.

Why! who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward
the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in
the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love—or sleep in
the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at the table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of an
August forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,

Or birds—or the wonderfulness of insects in the
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down—or of
stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new-
moon in May,
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that
like me best—mechanics, boatmen, farmers,
Or among the savans—or to the soiree—or to
the opera,
Or stand a long while looking at the movements
of machinery,
Or behold children at their sports,
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or
the perfect old woman,
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass,
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me
The whole referring—yet each distinct and in its

To me, every hour of the light and dark is a
Every inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is
spread with the same,

Every cubic foot of the interior swarms with the
Every spear of grass—the frames, limbs, organs,
of men and women, and all that concerns
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion
of the waves—the ships, with men in them
—what stranger miracles are there?

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