As the note in the order of service suggested, I borrowed the sermon title from C.S.Lewis, Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less! It is an interesting corrective to the oft-quoted seeing yourself as less than others, a view which could be taken from the passage from Philippians read earlier. The truth which we have discovered over a couple of hundred years is that a healthy sense of oneself and ones place in the world is a corrective to arrogance, bullying, narcissism, egotism, pride, conceit and self-importance, just to name a few. While strangely, a low estimate of self can lead to exactly the same things, as an over-compensation for ones feelings of inadequacy.
Of course the key, as with many virtues, is that they are practised in community with others. And the writer to the community in Phillipi is encouraging the practice of virtues that will shape the community around the presence of their founder not Paul, but Jesus and what he calls the mind of Christ. Let me paraphrase the first few verses:
Through encouragement in Christ, be consoled in love, share in the Spirit, have compassion and sympathy, make joy complete. And share a common mind in love, being in full accordance with each other.
A tall order for any community and yet many of the components of healthy and harmonious living are there. I am sure that how we think about ourselves has a remarkable impact on how we treat those around us. It also shapes the way we view others.
The Monks and the Imam
The story is told of a famous Imam from the Islamic tradition who comes to visit three monks living on the edge of the remote Judean desert. They have lived together for many years and as with long-term co-habitation, bitter resentments have developed between them. As is the practice of the monks, the Imam is invited to stay. It doesnt take him long to observe the unhealthy relationships between these men.
After three days it is time for the visitor to leave. The monks accompany this wise man to the door and as he is about to leave, the senior monk asks the holy man for a blessing. The Imam turns and says, "The Christ is one of you." And with that statement he leaves. The monks are perplexed and at first amazed because there is nothing in any of them that reminds them of the Messiah. But days pass and slowly their behaviour toward each other begins to change. "Could Brother Lawrence be the Messiah?" thinks Brother Peter. "Or is it Brother Peter?" wonders Brother Bernard.
As the weeks followed and their behaviour changed, the monastery became a place of warmth and love that attracted many pilgrims. Did they discover who was the messiah among them .? The answer is obvious: as they each put on the mind of Christ, so they each became the Christ to each other.
The True self and the Mind of Christ
Without being too theological, to "put on the mind of Christ" is not to become something you are not. We all are imprinted with this image of God, some may call it our higher self or true self. It stands in opposition to the false, the illusion of what we think we are; and by practising that illusion we think we will get what we need.
The ancient writer has much wisdom on finding who we are in our relationships and interactions with those around us. A quote from last week: there is no such thing as a self-made man or self-made woman; we are all made by each other.
Watch out for selfish ambition and conceit, better to practise humility, not always thinking of yourself as superior to others but focusing on the interests of others.
I see a balance here. I have noticed that I am a healthier person when I am in communion which others. And I dont mean just in communication but when I am genuinely engaged with someone else. The French philosopher Simone Weil says, "The greatest gift you can give another person is your undivided attention."
Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less!
Humility is a sort of focus of the mind. C.S.Lewis is correct; dont think less of yourself - that will lead you into too many dark corners. (Of course there is little point living as if you are superior to everyone else, I cant see that that will take you very far.) Surely it is a right perspective of who you are and what your life and gifts are about and this is most formed by humbly listening to those around you . Ha but!! Not everyone around you. And this is where discernment is necessary. There are some very negative people who, because of their low image of themselves, will desire to pull you down. This is where we return to the mind of Christ:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, even though he was shaped and formed by God, was not arrogant but embraced human likeness and humility even though that cost him his life.
A recent philosopher reflecting on the military conflicts within our world said that the single virtue the world required today was not so much courage, bravery, valour or audacity, it was humility; he suggested it was "the capacity to weave together restraint, resolve and wisdom". Perhaps that is the mind of Christ - the wisdom of Jesus of Nazareth and of the great leaders of the world.
And these words too, before I end with the words of Mother Teresa:
Therefore, my beloved, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
These are the few ways we can practise humility:
To speak as little as possible of oneself.
To mind one's own business.
Not to want to manage other people's affairs.
To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
To pass over the mistakes of others.
To accept insults and injuries.
To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.
To be kind and gentle even under provocation.
Never to stand on one's dignity.
To choose always the harder task.