History has witnessed mighty individuals fall due to callous egos. Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin come to mind and in recent years Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden. Shakespeare wrote compelling tragedies and histories about people who were caught up in the whirl of their own narcissism and the great bard depicted how it would ultimately be their undoing.
For example, Macbeth and his wife are trapped by the circumstances of their acquisition of power. Richard the Third is as well. The character flaw of cunning and political adroitness that helped them on the rise to power was ultimately their undoing. Their corruption has choked the mortal coil.
On the other hand, in examining the history of social justice, the individuals who were able to harness the ego and engage in humility are equally, if not more, effective in bringing greater change to the world. The ego is in check in the name of the greater good for the common good and this humility empowers movements to greater objectives. A humble leader becomes secondary to the cause through the act of self-sacrifice. People like MLK, Ceasar Chavez, St. Oscar Romero, and Dorothy Day knew this.
It seems as though whenever I relinquish my will to something greater, something big is happening. I find myself surrendering to circumstance and benefitting greatly from it. It may come in tangible rewards but more often than not the real profit is in the growth that ensues. As I get older, this inspires me to relinquish my will more readily.
I guess some would call it “going with the flow”. It’s hard to go with the flow, though, when fear, the innate quality of life takes, over. When I’m willing to recognize the work of something greater in my life like God, my sense of creativity and infinite possibility kicks in and tends to override fear. When I think about it over and over again, ruminating on possible missteps, I lose myself in the missteps of the dance and don’t connect with the music of life.
We bow in humility daily to the forces of nature that God has created. But there is something that God has created within us that helps us recognize the power to address the circumstances we face. The more we access that place within, the more we see the power of God at work in our lives.
The quest to use this power for good is always there. How do I use it to benefit the common good? How do I use my gifts to ensure that I’m serving God’s people in a way that fits Jesus’ call to discipleship? We do with it what we can with the circumstance that is presented at any given time.
This is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It inspires us to see the beauty of humility even in the depths of darkness. James Finley wrote in his book “Merton’s Palace to Nowhere,” “The Holy Spirit teaches us to die”. Interesting thought. This death inspires humility.
Finley goes on to write: “Sometimes between two people it’s like this: They say what’s become of us? And what will become of us if it gets even bigger and goes even deeper? In order to follow this path there is within our hearts this willingness to die to all customary reference points and of thought, to all customary reference points in belief systems, of all customary reference points to all that we can comprehend. We have to be willing to look very deeply into ourselves and say to ourselves ‘see what has become of us?’ What will become of me if it gets even deeper? And it gets even bigger? And we already know it’s going to get bigger and get deeper, because there’s no end to what we have gotten ourselves into”.
The greatness of humility is the recognition that we are not in charge – there is something greater at work and the presence of faith will carry us the rest of the way.
Getting out of the way of our selves and letting humility work its magic is the real gift.
This recognition of humility is the truest expression of self. Thomas Merton says it another way. He writes, “A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection because he is no longer concerned about incidentals, like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them.
For a humble man is not afraid of failure. In fact, he is not afraid of anything, even of himself, since perfect humility implies perfect confidence in the power of God, Whom there is no such thing as an obstacle.
Humility is the surest sign of strength”.
This runs contrary to what we encounter in the media and are told by some of our politicians, but it is resonant in Jesus’ message. “The greatest in the Kingdom is the least of these among us…. The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
It’s not easy to do, but it’s worth attempting to be humble. It’s worth heeding the advice of Christ and the biblical passages of earnest desire to impart trusting in faith. What we call nowadays “letting go and letting God”.