The oak trees are not quite sure of things yet. The day is fully Spring. The sun has been out most of the month, and the animals seem to be dancing at times, chasing each other through and around the branches. Some periwinkle decided to start the wildflower season underneath a fifteen foot tall cedar sapling. It gathers around the trunk, fairly in the shade, and sings with its bright purple flowers to all passers-by. The small sequoia planted in late winter seems to be finding its way in our mountain soil. Don’t get me started about the grasses. Our hills have the texture and color of the emerald isle after our historic rains.
No word from the oaks. I think I see small buds developing, but I’m not too sure. Old, brown, tattered leaves from last year still hang on. Having stayed in place with snow and storm they will only be pushed out, not pushed off. So, Spring is here but the oaks are cautious, knowing that this is a year in which surprising things happened. Personally, I’m not eager for the oak leaves to be seen in their fullness. For that will mean it is hot out, and I am loving the beautiful chill of the mountain this week.
It’s a curious thing I haven’t taken note of my soul more this week. Or maybe it is because my soul has endured curious things that I haven’t taken note. Nothing ground-breaking or even particularly interesting. Indeed, one could finish with the first word of that last sentence. This week has had nothing. But, that’s something. Or in that is something which is what makes it all so curious.
I’ve been pulled up as I’ve felt pulled down. Maybe it’s that I’ve felt pulled down as I’ve felt pulled up. Could be that the pulling down is the pulling up, which is the more curious way of looking at things.
What I do know is that as I’ve felt the encroaching Nothing in my life I have been driven to find a depth and focus which has eluded me for a long time.
When I first went out to Wheaton, almost twelve years ago now, I found myself in a spiritual environment where loneliness rather totally had its way with me. I wandered out to the front lawn of the school and prayed, “a hundred times a day, and almost as many at night.” Seemingly to no avail. Though I did graduate from there, a miracle of no mean proportions given my financial situation and the ludicrousness of my being there at all. Really, it was there that I became a monk of sorts, for it was in choosing Wheaton that I abandoned my social realities for divine realities. I left my home of California to find God. I had hoped to find more of a life, but in reality I lost a lot of my life in order to taste Eternal life. In those moments I tasted eternity, and that is a flavor which does not depart. It drives a soul, through the darkness, through the Void, into the depths.
This particular depth and focus which I found at Wheaton seems to have sparked back. And while it’s a good thing, it’s not necessarily a happy thing because it is almost entirely driven by the harshness of humility.
The reality of humility is a lot different than the concept is usually portrayed. The Pope is called the “Servant of the servants of God” denoting the humility of the position. Such opulence and power cannot know real humility however, but this is the kind of humility we all think to embrace. It is a rhetorical humility which has the language but not the power of real humility.
Real humility is like water. Or like the roots of a tree. It crumbles foundations, destroys monuments, reaching into each little crevice and ripping apart the whole. All that is left is nothing.
I have a friend who is dealing with a particularly frustrating situation tell me that he wasn’t quite sure what to do anymore. Common sense, pride and the lessons of personal power would tell him to act to restore his own being in the situation, to press onwards come what may, to know his rights and proclaim them, crushing that which seeks to disturb his noble ventures. “Move on, move on,” the apparent wisdom suggests. “Let loose, and move on.”
Only he can’t. Because he is praying and others are praying and the Spirit is doing a work, he can’t move on. He can’t move at all. He knew this, and felt he wasn’t supposed to embrace the suggested pattern so engaged in a counterintuitive pattern which would make all things right. Only nothing worked. Nothing changed. All the strategies and tactics did nothing until now he is left with nothing, emptied of strategies and tactics, only able to be. And this state of being is one in which strikes at the very soul of a person these days.
I told him I understand.
This is humility. Humility isn’t being aware of one’s issues and difficulties. Humility is the letting loose of everything we think we are owed and yet still not giving into despair. Humility is not depression. Humility is not loss. Humility is not existing in an underclass.
Humility is Nothing. It is the release of being after all things have been tried and all tactics came up empty. It is the realization that any assertion of Being will return empty, and any attempt to fight past will be repulsed by a heavy hand. It is the realization that even if great points can be made, they won’t be heard. It is the understanding that even if right, no one will listen.
It is where God wants us.
A hermit said, “When you flee from the company of other people, or when you despise the world and worldlings, take care to do so as if it were you who was being idiotic.”
Humility is when one is able to see past all our accumulated realities, all those things which we gather around us like cushions making a fort. Those things get washed away and we see ourselves, nothing other than our bare, naked selves before God, who yearns for us, not for our contributions. We taste of our stark reality and realize we are nothing, owed nothing. In this state trying to assert our being becomes a useless enterprise, for we have no being. Thus, one lets loose arguments and points. One leaves off attempts to assert authority and replaces this with apologies and quiet. One does not correct, one does not force, one does not expect. Depression has no more sustenance because depression is based on defeated expectation.
Humility is Nothing. It is the emptied soul. There are no more tactics, no more pursuits, no more thrills and no more machinations. There are no more tricks, no more motives. There is nothing and all is filled with nothing.
But… God is something. God is something and he is doing a work. He is doing a work which is beyond all things, filled with light and delight. There is nothing for me to do but to be, and there is nothing in me to accomplish what I feel called towards. There is nothing, but God is something and so in being pulled down I am being pulled up.
“I Patrick, a sinner, very badly educated, in Ireland, declare myself to be a bishop. I am quite certain that I have received from God that which I am. Consequently I live among barbarian tribes as an exile and refugee for the love of God; God himself is the witness that this is true. It is not that I was anxious to utter from my mouth anything in so harsh and unpleasant a manner. But I am compelled by zeal for God, and the truth of Christ has aroused me out of affection for my neighbors and children for whom I have given up country and kinsfolk and my own life even to death. If I am worthy, I exist to teach tribes for my God, even though I am despised in many quarters.”
Humility finds glory in God. First, however, there is humility, and the reality of humility is brutal and emptying. I see what I want, what I should be able to grasp after, except for the continual reminders that I am humbled.
I feel today what the city of Vicksburg must have felt. Not the citizens… the city itself. And that is a humility.
I too am not quite sure of things, and there is only to wait on God to fill these now barren branches.