I discovered first of all that for the monastic teachers’ humility is the key virtue that is both the starting point and the enabler of the whole Christian experience. What they meant by humility, however, had little to do with the modern, everyday use of the term. For them, humility was not about grovelling before God or other human beings. It had nothing to do with being passive, being a doormat, or glorifying having a poor self-image. It was certainly not a virtue recommended to women or poor people so that they would accept their place in society.
No, humility for the ancient teachers meant accepting ourselves and others just as we are, limitations, vulnerabilities, and other major imperfections included, as already equally valuable and beloved of God without our having to prove our worth by what we accomplish, what we own, what we do right, or by our status in society and in the church. This meant that humility was about slipping underneath the whole hierarchical social web of judgements by which we limit ourselves and one another in order to love and act fearlessly with power and authority.
The guarantee of this humility for the monastic teachers is that it is grounded in the humility of God, as we meet it in the person of Jesus. Think of it! – the humility of God, who has no need to prove God’s power and might over human beings, who absolutely does not desire to dominate us, or bend us to God’s will. God the Father? Dimly, I was beginning to see that this person might not be the one I had thought.
I wanted humility. I knew by now, however, that humility was not a virtue the ancient teachers thought human beings acquire all at once by gritting their teeth and becoming humble. Like all the qualities of God’s love in which human beings are made to share by virtue of the image of God, humility, they believed, is formed in us as a disposition only over a very long time. A vital part of the process of formation was a daily practice of prayer, including most especially reading and mulling over scripture. Because by now I wanted so badly what they had, the monastic teachers had convinced me that it was worth the risk to try, with their help, to enter into a relationship of daily prayer with this God who was turning out to be so different from the one I had so long thought God was. This is what I did.
I have carried this quote with me for years and have still not discovered who said it. Any ideas please?