Saturday, March 29, 2014

The humility of God - part 3

(Again I pray before I write...God have mercy on me, a sinner.)

To enter into the life of God is to enter into His humility. 

Did we imagine that it could be any other way? That we could enter the Divine life while clinging to our desires or presuming our rewards? That God would empty Himself while we simply stood by and reaped the benefits?

Stated this way, it sounds rather silly. And yet our hearts balk at the notion of humility. We do not want to give up what we want - at least not without some promise that we will eventually obtain it. We do not want to risk all and be left with nothing. We are not ready to be like Christ.

And thus begins the concept of repentance. 

To repent means to change our hearts - to turn our hearts from self-love and desire to Other-love and gift. It is not a trivial matter nor does it come without a price.

When I approach repentance, deeply and sincerely, it requires me to look at all of the thoughts and feelings and actions that have kept me from the oneness with God for which I was created. This looking, were it not for Mercy, could easily draw me to the point of despair - so painful is it to see how far I am from God and to know that this is my doing. It exposes my raw need for Him to the point of complete vulnerability.

And yet, unless I learn through humility that I need Him desperately, He remains the God of my invention rather than the God of my cure. The God that I invent (or modify) - for the convenience of my ego and its desires - demands little of me. 

Most certainly it does not demand that I surrender my heart so that it may be broken. "Rend your hearts and not your garments", says the prophet (Joel 2:13). The true God does not simply want ceremony, ritual and outward show. He wants my heart, torn and broken.

This sounds brutal - and yet God is not asking of me anything that He Himself does not give. The tearing and breaking of my heart is to open and fulfill it, not destroy it.

For the humility of God is not destructive but creative beyond my comprehension.

Hence, for us to enter the humility of God is something very different from the destructiveness of low self esteem. In most of its forms, low self esteem is a centering on the perceived failure of the self, often accompanied by inner verbal abuse. The humility of God is the polar opposite - for it is a centering on Other, emptying self so as to be filled with true Self, holy and beautiful and healed.

The self-emptying of God’s humility is also very much in contrast to the human trait of codependency. The latter gives the appearance of self-emptying and other-love but it is destructive, not creative. It is, oddly, a sort of pride in which I become the savior, not the saved. When we attempt other-love apart from Jesus, it is inherently destructive of self and other - because we, in our weakness, do not know how to love without desire.

Thus, repentance, viewed in light of the humility of God, is a turning, a tearing and breaking of our hearts in the manner of Jesus - that our hearts might be opened and filled, emptied and yet ever full. To repent is not a single decision but a lifetime process to which we are continually invited.

And the act of repenting quite naturally draws us to worship. 

When we, who do not know how to love without wanting something in return, encounter the One who loves with utter selflessness, we cannot help but feel awe. We cannot help but know that we are in the presence of Being so much beyond ourselves that a joyful reverence is perhaps the only genuine response.

In such a Presence, what do we do? Do we sing? Do we dance? Or do we bow in solemn silence? God needs none of these things - but we do. For we cannot taste such love without wanting to express it. To express it is to share it, loving freely and without desire, from hearts broken and cleansed. This is worship - true worship. 

Come, join me in repenting.

And then, let us joyfully worship the One Who loves us into being...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The humility of God - part 2

I feel a bit concerned as I sit down tonight to continue my reflection on the humility of God. I fear that I might lead someone astray by the inadequacy of my efforts to write of God. Who do I think I am that I could say anything of God Who is so beyond my comprehension? Hence, I must pray before I write and entrust the rest to God Himself.


As I wrote in my last post, it is not so hard to think of Jesus as humble. Neither is it so terribly hard to think of the Holy Spirit as having a sort of humility - or at least a gentleness - given His image as a dove descending from the heavens; or the words "Comforter" and "Advocate" that Jesus used when promising the Spirit's coming. Where we perhaps encounter more difficulty is associating the Father, the God of the Old Testament, with humility.

(As an aside, it is important to understand that the Father, Son and Spirit are One and it therefore makes little sense to discuss "them" as though they were separate beings. "They" are not beings at all, as we use the term, but God is Being itself, a notion that we can only vaguely comprehend. There is no correct pronoun, singular or plural, masculine or feminine, to capture the fullness of God's reality.)

Because of the way we human beings have corrupted power, we tend to automatically associate power and immensity with self-importance and pride. Hence, it would seem to us a contradiction that the Father, the Ground of all being and Creator of all that exists (from the tiniest single-cell organism to the vast reaches of the universe), could be identified with humility.

Yet if we open the eyes of our hearts to the abundance of creation, it is hard to think of its Source as anything but utterly generous and self-emptying. Our universe so far exceeds necessity that we cannot begin to fathom it. It is overflowing with gift and this reality itself reveals to us something of the Father-Creator.

Let us consider butterflies, for example :-). As much as I love butterflies, it might be a hard argument to make that such beautiful and complex insects are truly necessary (many insects can pollinate and be food sources for other animals). Yet even if the argument could be made, our planet has an estimated 15,000-20,000 different species of these beautiful, fragile creatures!

This alone, among many similar realities of our universe, portrays a Creator that is not centered inward (on Self) but that is ever pouring out Beauty in extravagant abundance, a "self-emptying" as it were. Certainly the ground of all Being Himself does not need any of this. It is gift to us - and incomprehensibly humble - for we are ever free to reject or destroy the gift, as we are free to reject the Creator Himself.


Although creation is one source of revelation, we are only able to truly begin to know the Father as "Person" through Jesus' life in our world. Prior to His coming, God spoke of Himself to humanity through prophets and holy people, but not nearly so plainly or personally.

There is much that Jesus tells of the Father that helps us begin to consider Him in His humility. One very simple thing that strikes me is that Christ invites us to call Him, "Father" or even "Abba" (equivalent to "Daddy"). That the Creator of the universe should allow me to address Him so intimately is indeed a sign of humility - a willingness to become "small" enough for me, one of billions, to approach Him so very personally.

There are many other ways in which Jesus teaches us about the Father, perhaps none more beautiful than in the parable of the prodigal son. In that story - which is our story - the father gives his wayward son his share of his inheritance upon demand - a demand which is very insulting, given that the father is still alive. The son wastes every bit of it in selfish excess and then comes back to his father for help - and the father celebrates his return!

No arrogant, self-centered father would tolerate such a thing, much less see it as cause for celebration. Only a supremely humble father could love with such utter selflessness.

If you have had  (or know someone who has had) an arrogant or self-centered parent, you will recognize immediately that this image of Father is something completely different.

Another revelation of the "humility of God" is found most profoundly, most intimately, in the prayer of Jesus to His Father in the presence of His closest followers at the Last Supper (see the gospel of St. John, Chapter 17). After Jesus' startling revelation to Phillip earlier in the narrative ("Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." John 14:9), He confirms His complete unity with the Father ("everything of mine is Yours and everything of Yours is mine" John 17:10). 

In these words, we know that the Father's humility is the same as the humility of Jesus. All that we have come to know of Jesus, the man, we now know is true of the Father, the Eternal Godhead, the Creator and ground of all being.

But it doesn't stop there. In Jesus' prayer we learn that, not only is the Father so humble that He became one of us in our limited nature, but that He invites us to become one with Him, to share in His Divine nature ("And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me." John 17:22-23).

Despite our weaknesses and faults, our apathy and even our rejection of Him, the Father, through the Son, and with the Spirit, invites us into His Divine life. There is no pride, no arrogance, in One who makes such an offer.

For the invitation is not to enhance His life - it needs no enhancing - for the outpouring of Love in Triune relationship of Father, Son and Spirit is more complete than anything we could imagine. The invitation is pure Self-gift, pure love. As the words of Jesus reveal, as He prayed for us to His Father, it is all so "that they may share My joy completely" (John 17:13).

It is His joy...given to know completely.

(It appears that there will be a part 3 to this discussion. In my next post, God willing, I will share thoughts about what the humility of God teaches us about repentance and worship.)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The humility of God - part 1

I have often wondered what it means to worship God.

Somewhere in the primitive recesses of my mind resides an image of God as a mighty king on a throne with everyone bowing down before Him. And, implied in that, is the notion that God expects, even demands, that we humans worship Him and only Him in this manner.

This might give the impression that God is all about Himself - about being the center of attention, the object of adoration. That God values His power over us and our subservience to Him.

Yet it is my belief that this could not be further from the Truth.

While certainly there are elements of truth in this imagery, there is something about it that could easily lead us terribly astray.

That "something" is that our imagery can only be based on human kings and thrones, human expectations and demands. Our imaginations cannot grasp the nature of God and we often end up with gross caricatures when we try to portray Him in any fashion fathomable to the human mind.

Some months ago, I was reading a small book of writings by St. Isaac of Nineveh and came across the phrase "humility of God". I was taken aback. My primitive image of God was certainly not one of humility. Already there had been rumblings in my soul challenging the primitive image, but I did not trust them and was concerned that something might be wrong with my faith.

(And, of course, there was something wrong with my faith. There always is. But God keeps working on that - so long as I ask Him to.)

With a bit of reflection, it is not so hard to see the humility of Jesus. He never used His "power" for personal gain. Often when He healed people, He urged them to tell no one - an almost ridiculous request, when one considers that most blind, deaf, lame or leprous people of His time would be well known as such and a sudden disappearance of such major ailments could hardly go unnoticed.

Christ sought to change the body, mind, heart and soul of each person He encountered - for their sake, not His own. Getting the crowds to admire Him was of no significance to Him. Was He tempted? The Gospel tells us that He was - and that He refuted the empty promises of the adversary.

But He did not stop there. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of His friends as though He were a servant. He even washed the feet of Judas, knowing that he was about to betray Him. He then allowed Himself to be arrested, beaten, spit upon and publicly ridiculed. He anticipated, then watched as His friends denied Him and walked away at His most terrifying hour.

He did not cry out in indignation at this - "how could you do this to Me, after all I've done for you?" He did not rage at them or weep for Himself. He  loved them and forgave them, even before they did what He knew they would do. We might imagine that this was easy for Him to do, being God, but the account of His time in the garden informs us that it was not. It was agony.

My heart tells me that this, indeed, is true humility. This is not the dictionary definition that suggests that to be humble is to have a low or modest opinion of oneself. Jesus did not suffer from low self esteem. His esteem for Himself had no significance - because His life was not centered on Himself. His heart was always centered on the Father, attending to His inner call to bring all people to repentance.

In today's language, Jesus was not "full of Himself". On the contrary, He "emptied Himself" (Philippians 2:7) and that self-emptying is the very essence of true humility, the humility of God. He did not simply empty Himself in becoming one of us, though the Incarnation represents a great self-giving by God. Once in human form, He emptied Himself of "self", so that there was no personal "ego" in His humanity to block the flow of Divine Love through Him to us.

But, one might ask, what about the Father? The One on the throne before whom all are bowing? Is He also "humble"? And the Spirit - the One we hardly know? How can God be God, the ground of all being - and still be humble? Is this possible?

In a day or two - or as God sees fit, I will continue this reflection on the Humility of God, repentance and what it means to worship. (With the foregone realization that, of myself, I know very little and am one of the least of His servants.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

the prayer

(If you are having trouble viewing the text of this image from a phone or other small device, scroll down and find the content reprinted.)


all of the poetry is gone from my soul

and in its place an empty crater.

it is dark here and i cannot see.

i reach to the right and to the left

but rough walls of rock surround me.

my feet search the earth below me,

seeking the site where once the fire blazed.

“repent! believe! the Kingdom is at hand!”

 voices echo from the pale light above.

reaching deep into the abandoned pit,

 i draw forth a handful of cold ashes.

 marking myself with the sign of the Savior,

the prayer in my heart begins to beat:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God,

have mercy on me a sinner…”

(Many blessings to you during this holy season of Lent. Let us pray with and for one another, that the prayer may change our hearts so that we can see Him once again...)