I just came across this quote, and it clanged like a loud bell through my whole being:
Humiliation is the beginning of sanctification; and as without this, without holiness, no man shall see God, though he pore whole nights upon his Bible; so without that, without humility, no man shall hear God speak to his soul, though he hear three two-hours' sermons every day. ... John Donne (1573-1631)First it should be said that I love John Donne as the eternal English major that I am. I have distinct memories of encountering Donne's poetry in my first English lit survey course as a college freshman. Finally my tastes had matured beyond the Footprints poems, and I understood the beauty of works like these from his Holy Sonnet XIV:
Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Donne, as described in Wikipedia, was a "poet, satirist, lawyer and Protestant priest." How could you not love such an eclectic man?! But his verse is what captured my attention... I loved how his poems covered so many different topics, ranging from worship to lust to grief to love. He seemed more real to me in that way. (If you still are bored at the mere mention of poetry, just quickly read through perhaps his most famous poem, that one titled No Man is an Island. The last lines still take my breath away.)
But I digress. The first words I mentioned here, those related to humiliation, taught me so much this morning in so few words.
We misunderstand, in 2012, what it truly means to be "humiliated." In our media-saturated culture full of "gotcha" photos and headlines, the word "humiliation" probably makes us immediately think of Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, Michael Jackson's child abuse charges, Lindsay Lohan's multiple arrests, too many embarrassing moments on reality TV, and televangelists caught in duplicitous situations. Humiliation is all about getting caught (proverbially or literally) with your pants down, degraded and revealed in all your weakness. And we somehow enjoy seeing that happen to someone else... perhaps because it takes the attention off of our own weaknesses and foibles?
In reality, to be humiliated is to not worry more about your reputation than the state of your soul. In other words, humiliation is a choice. It says, "I don't care what you think of me. Instead, I seek to be someone of true character and integrity. I want my actions and convictions to line up. I will hold to my ethics and values, regardless of the personal cost."
With that in mind, Jesus is the ultimate example of humiliation, right? In dying on the cross, the ultimate sign of humiliation and degradation in the Roman Empire, he was willing to suffer the vulgar hatred and misunderstanding and lies that rained down on him because he knew that his atonement best expressed and enacted the profound love and forgiveness of God.
So what does that mean for me? How can I "humiliate" myself? If you surf around the net for "humility" and "humiliation," you might land on this site. It says there that to be humble and be humiliated is to:
- put others first
- be willing to take last place
- be willing to forgo personal rights
- be willing to be mocked
Ah, now it gets personal. My daily interactions with friends, co-workers, clients, family, the people I meet at Trader Joe's, the drivers that cut me off when I'm riding my bike... Ouch. This is impossible on my own. Only thru the Spirit's work and presence in me am I able to do this, even occasionally.
When I took Biblical Greek in seminary, I learned that the classic verse about humility, 1Peter 5:6-7, is written in the passive tense. What that means is that "Humble yourselves under the mighty power of God" is better translated as "Be humbled under the mighty power of God." Such a difference, eh?
Practically speaking, perhaps Henri Nouwen puts it best:
Courage is connected with taking risks. Jumping the Grand Canyon on a motorbike, coming over Niagara Falls in a barrel, or crossing the ocean in a rowboat are called courageous acts because people risk their lives by doing these things. But none of these daredevil acts comes from the centre of our being. They all come from the desire to test our physical limits and to become famous and popular. Spiritual courage is something completely different. It is following the deepest desires of our hearts at the risk of losing fame and popularity. It asks of us the willingness to lose our temporal lives in order to gain eternal life.
The summer blockbuster movie for kids this summer is Brave. I haven't seen it, but if the popularity of movies like Hunger Games is any indication, I believe that our world hungers for true bravery... and maybe even humiliation?