Growing Virtues in Humility
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. [Micah 6:8 (NIV)].
In soil science, humus is stable organic matter that has completed its break down process. Under the right conditions, humus remains unchanged for hundreds, even thousands of years.
I love the fact that the word humus – the decayed vegetable matter that feeds the roots of plants – comes from the same root that gives rise to the word humility. It is a blessed etymology. It helps me understand that the humiliating events of my life, the events that leave “mud on my face” or that “make my name mud,” may create the fertile soil in which something new can grow. [Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, p. 103].
Humus keeps soils healthy and helps improve fertility. It can transform sterile, unproductive dirt into vigorous soil full of nutrients beneficial to plant life.
It is the great prerogative of our divine Husbandman that He is able to turn any soil, whatever it may be like, into the soil of grace, the moment we put our growing into His hands. He does not need to transplant us into a different field. Right where we are, with just the circumstances that surround us, He makes His sun to shine and His dew to fall upon us. He transforms the very things that were our greatest hindrances to the most blessed means of our growth … And if He sends storms, or winds, or rains, or sunshine, all must be accepted at His hands with the most unwavering confidence that He, who has undertaken to cultivate us and to bring us to maturity, knows the very best way of accomplishing His end. [Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, p. 179-80].
Humility: Spiritual Humus
Noted for its ability to yield great virtues, “humility” is spiritual humus. It is the lowly temperament of a human being where we grow the piety and righteousness essential for proper nourishment of our soul.
Humility, that low, sweet root, from which all heavenly virtues shoot. [Thomas Moore].
Planted in humility, an attitude of piety flourishes naturally, sustaining patience, sanctity and sacrifice. Reverence, gratefulness and compassion also thrive in humility. In fact, a bountiful yield of modesty, meekness and charity can be harvested continuously from just a small patch of humility.
… gentleness, temperance, modesty, and humility, are graces which ought to colour everything we do. There may be virtues of a more exalted mould, but … these are the most continually called for in daily life. [Saint Francis de Sales, Introduction To The Devout Life, Pt. III, Ch. 1].
Weeds in the Garden
Even in fertile humility, weeds, pests and diseases must be controlled. No matter how good or sacred our intentions, we are subject to abandonment of good habits.
It has been said that, at the beginning of the way, we must kill out ambition, the great curse, the giant weed which grows as strongly in the heart of the devoted disciple as in the man of desire. The remedy is sacrifice of self, obedience, humility, that purity of heart which gives the vision of God. [Charles Johnston, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: “The Book of the Spiritual Man”; an Interpretation].
We may initially undertake humble activities for pious reasons. Soon however, we begin enjoying the worldly accolades that accompany our practices. We end up using the spiritual benefits of humility for our private interests.
And thus it is: if We let him taste ease and plenty after hardship has visited him, he is sure to say, “Gone is all affliction from me!” – for, behold, he is given to vain exultation, and glories only in himself. [Quran 11:10].
The greatest peril to humility gardens is pride. which appear in various forms, including vanity, conceit, self-centeredness and pretentiousness. Arrogance, haughtiness and superciliousness are names for similar conditions.
All other sins are evil deeds, but pride insinuates it self even unto good works to destroy and slay them. For that reason, Sacred Scriptures says, “Pride goeth before destruction.” [Proverbs 16:18]. [Bishop Fulton Sheen,Victory Over Vice. 45].
Although humility repels pretentiousness and protects us from self-glorification, when we attain even token success, pride and arrogance are ever creeping into our character.
Egotism and pride can drain piety from our works and exhaust the fertility of our humility. Regular inspection of our character can deter a major infestation.
Pride slays thanksgiving, but an humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.
[Henry Ward Beecher, Life’s Thoughts, p. 115].
Spiritual drought is a period when our soul experiences a deficiency in worshiping and devotional activities. Such droughts can last for months or years. Generally, this occurs when we receive consistently below average spiritual nourishment.
If this ground be well dug by troubles, by persecutions, detractions, and infirmities,—they are few who ascend so high without this,—if it be well broken up by great detachment from all self-interest, it will drink in so much water that it can hardly ever be parched again. But if it be ground which is mere waste, and covered with thorns (as I was when I began); if the occasions of sin be not avoided; if it be an ungrateful soil, unfitted for so great a grace,—it will be parched up again. If the gardener become careless,—and if our Lord, out of His mere goodness, will not send down rain upon it,—the garden is ruined. [St. Teresa of Avila, Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, Ch. XIX.5].
We encounter spiritual dryness when we pray or give in charity merely to be seen and to be admired by others. We see it in spiritual leaders who exults in scriptural knowledge and relish being conspicuous in prominent positions.
Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance. [Saint Augustine].
Praise, status and recognition, mere byproducts of humility, can become primary goals. Transient benefits replace the ultimate goal of God-consciousness. Such debilitating results are common when we reduce humility to physical activities. We may experience many material benefits from such practices, but ultimately, we must be seeking God.
The unattended garden will soon be overrun with weeds; the heart that fails to cultivate truth and root out error will shortly be a theological wilderness. [A. W. Tozer, The Importance of Sound Doctrine].
From a worldly perspective, it is not easy to see ourselves as insignificant and worthless beings. We like to consider ourselves unique and precious. Such an attitude can stunt spiritual growth and impede God-consciousness.
In order to experience in one’s conscience the opening of mysteries with respect to knowledge of God, it is essential to live in modesty, humility, and self-nullification … the mysterious key to all kinds of goodness is modesty, and the key to all kinds of evil is arrogance and selfishness. [Fethullah Gülen].
Humility should not become another fashionable adornment of our worldly costume. A Divine Reality exists and our humility should heighten our conscious awareness of it. This must remain our paramount focus.
Not until we have become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God’s holiness and sovereignty … acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts, and willing to have our minds turned upside down, can divine wisdom become ours. [J. I. Packer, Knowing God Through the Year, p. 154].
In submitting ourselves to Divine Wisdom, we exalt our intellect, heighten our compassion, and attain unimagined spiritual riches. With inexhaustible humility prevailing in our soul, the amount of wealth our character can accommodate in unlimited.
For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. [Luke 14:11].