I have been visiting ministers in other denominations as I market a series of retreats called “Life of the Spirit”, so with most churches I know you address the Rev. Smith or Jones as pastor or reverend; but I was not sure what to call the rector of an Episcopal Church. I thought it might be reverend, but I needed to find out before I met with the rector of an urban Episcopal Church. The proper term. I found out, is Father Smith or Jones, and I’ve been thinking about that term, Father. It resonates in me, the father/priest being a human stand-in for God. I relate to God being Father, after all I grew up in the age of He and Him, but I also know the Father to be a Mother to us all, a wise parent who knows what is best for us, who loves us no matter what we do, who always wants to give us all-flowing love.
It reassures me when I am visiting my daughter and I hear her or her husband say to one of their four boys, “Now who is in charge of you? Who knows what is best for you and will keep you safe?” and the child answers, as he has learned to do, “you are/do.” That sense of being safe in our parents’ arms, held and loved and cared for and trained and disciplined, is a great model for the love of God for us. He always wants what is best for us, always loves us even when we screw up, as long as we turn back to him, whether life’s lessons are delivered with the softness of a mother’s caress or the facing up to reality of a father’s view of the world, God loves us and cares for us.
In the whole system of creation is everything we need from raw materials like minerals to create things to the raw material of ideas out of which we can create who we are, given our genetic predispositions and ingrained talents and yes, even weaknesses. There is not anything that is lacking in the blessings of what God has provided. We have everything we need to create a good life, plus his constant companionship if we so choose.
What does all this have to do with true humility, you might ask? Humility is not abasing yourself or making you less than you are, like the flagellations of some medieval religious orders. It’s not about putting yourself last and taking care of everyone else. It’s not about shame or guilt for who you are. It’s not sackcloth and ashes.
True humility is a matter of knowing your place in the scheme of things. God is the Creator of all things and people; he provided everything that anyone could possible need; he continues to create in this world where he finds people to work with; and he is the source of all blessing either built into the system or provided in this moment. Where does that leave you and I? A distant second to God. He has preempted all the creator slots, and the provision slots and the blessing slots; all we can do is use what he has provided to build our lives. We are not the source of anything in our lives even if we are very clever.
True humility is knowing that God is the source of everything and that our job is work with him to co-create what we are called to do and be in this world: that individual set of talents and weaknesses that is our design for the purpose of making a particular kind of contribution to the whole of humanity. When you understand humility, and God’s role in our lives, there is no conflict with putting God first and us second. You see the hand of God everywhere; blessings and gratitude are your constant companions. Of course this is not how the world looks as God; to the world God is an interesting but not particularly relevant figure who has little meaning in our reductionist, post-modern world.