Sunday, April 27, 2014

Spoiling Miss Annie

April 27, 2014

Dear friends,

When people ask, “What are you doing?” I have learned to answer cautiously. 

For the most part, when people ask this question they are asking me to explain a physical act (or failure to act) that they have observed.

If I answer the question by explaining events occurring in my inner world, experience has taught me that major confusion is likely to occur.  Social interactions proceed more smoothly if I keep things simple and respond in terms of the questioner’s probable view of what my body is doing. 

Last week was rich with people—friends and family shared their time and lives with me, and I experienced a King-Midas kind of reality—I had more relational gold than I could count.  And in the midst of that rich interaction there was one of those “What are you doing?” kind of questions that can deepen self-awareness when we are willing to live into them.

My body was standing motionless holding the front door open for Annie who was sitting on the threshold apparently immobilized by indecision. Both Annie and I held this posture without moving for what seemed a ridiculously long time to my friend who was observing the scene.

“What are you doing?” she asked at last, a hint of exasperation in her voice. My friend is a sensible organizing person who gets breakfast on the table without interruptions. “The toast is getting cold.”

“I’m waiting on Annie,” I said, taking refuge in the obvious, “but I’m coming.” As I closed the door (Annie having elected “in” over “out”), my friend added with gentle disapproval, “You certainly do spoil that cat.” 

Later when people had returned to their homes and my house was quiet, I re-visited that interaction in my mind.

“What was I doing?” I asked myself.  “Was this an example of unwise cat-indulgence? Was I simply ‘spoiling’ Annie?”

I thought at length about the matter, and came to a conclusion that surprised me.  

Actually, seen from the inside out, the whole event was about humility.

I grant immediately that this reality was not one my friend could have seen with physical eyes. I doubt that this explanation would ever have occurred to her even if she had thought twice about Annie and me at the door. But here in the quiet of my study, I want to say something about the meaning of the incident and my sense of what humility entails.

Humility is a deeply underrated virtue in our culture, and is widely misunderstood and poorly defined. 

Contrary to cultural stereotypes, humility does not involve distortion of truth. Humility is not demonstrated when a beautiful woman says (or believes) that she is ugly, or highly intelligent persons describe themselves as stupid. 

In a parallel sense, humility does not entail self-depreciation, self-condemnation, nor devaluation of personhood.  It is not a calculated sacrificial move in the relational chess-game of one-up-man-ship by playing one-down. 
What then is humility? 

How do you define humility? Do you think it is a virtue? If so, how do you practice it? What barriers do you find to the practice of authentic humility?

I think humility is relevant to both Annie at the door and the tending of a sustainable faith.  I plan to explain both more fully next week.

In the meantime, here is my basic presupposition: knowing ourselves is a life-long complex process that requires both self-awareness and the perspective gained through context.

Thinking with you about the paradox that I can never truly know what is about me until I understand what is not about me.

See you next week.



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