Remember how optimistic, how magical the world could look when we were having a good day as a child? Bright with endless, wonderful possibilities. Then little by little our cultures began working on that gestalt. We began our journey in learning the structures, the customs which the adults in our world deemed necessary for us to learn. Even language itself imposes a structure in how we view our world. Religion, science, history, literature, religion, how to conduct relationships, all taught by authority figures with a gravity to their presentation. Sometimes it’s like being handed stones to carry: it can all weigh us down. Our spirit, our soul can feel depressed by the weight of what we’re carrying. Sometimes the world, what we perceive from both inside ourselves and in the world around us, can be such a disappointment, a crushing departure from what we envisioned on a good day as a child. And in all this I haven’t even entered into what being exposed to the trauma of tragic suffering, violence and war can do to us.
How can we reclaim the magic? Is it even possible? Does this seem a trivial question when considering the obstacles that may arise in our path, in our lives? However trivial recapturing the magic we may remember feeling as a child may seem, especially in the face of all the trials and tribulations challenging us every day… it isn’t a trivial thing at all! The Book of Matthew 18:3, (ESV), puts it this way: “(Jesus) …and said: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In this passage Jesus is not talking about becoming child-ish, he goes on to be more specific in verse 4: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The operant word is “humbles”, having humility.
Humility is a tricky word. Often it is associated with “lowliness”. In that usage, in modern lingo, it might be characterized as putting oneself down. Wikipedia gives the origin of the word humility as: “The term “humility” comes from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as “humble”, but also as “grounded”, or “from the earth”, since it derives in turns from humus (earth)…”
It is when I first learned that humility doesn’t mean walking around with one’s head down constantly engaging in self flagellation that the word began to make a lot more sense. “Grounded”, I can work with that, I think we can work with that! When I was corrected in my thinking about humility it was presented that humility, essentially, means having a correct assessment of where one’s skills/abilities fit in a realistic relationship with the world at large. Looking at the stars at night we can feel very small, very much in awe of what is. That is grounded, healthy, realistic. On the other hand if one is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and sees an accident victim bleeding and/or injured one may feel a sense of worth, of importance. Those feelings can lead an EMT to act appropriately to help preserve or even save the life of the victim. In that moment the EMT is not small but of great importance. And that also is grounded, healthy, realistic.
Knowing when we are small, neophytes, ignorant (yes, ignorant, it’s not an insult it’s a descriptive term that applies to all of us in relationship to some area of knowledge at any given time) can be very important for us. We need to have the humility to recognize that reality. And when we are genuinely knowledgeable, maybe even authoritative, of something it can be very important for us to have the humility to know that also. For most of us it is strange to think of having humility as knowing when we may possess valuable knowledge, maybe even know more than the others around us about something. However, with humility, when we recognize our knowledge, or lack thereof, that recognition isn’t coupled with pride, lowliness or false humility, it is simply a grounded assessment of our standing relative to others in a given situation. In this way humility is synonymous with a healthy ego. A truly humble, grounded, assessment of ourselves requires neither defending nor surrendering.
What I really like is that if we have a grounded view of ourselves relative to the world around us, there is no way not to feel the wonder, the awe of a child in the face of such a miraculous home. Awe when we’re appreciating the wonderful achievements of others. And sometimes, when we’re appreciating our own achievements. Because, after all, we too are a part of the miraculous world at large!