Humility, I say! Humility is the ointment for our wounds
Some years into my Christian life – most likely in high school – I discovered the mind’s power in theological argumentation. This was no fault of my teachers and pastors. It was my own propensity to take beautiful things – like God’s bigness and human fragility and the Spirit’s pursuit – and turn them into hard-and-fast, in-and-out categories that led not to love of others but criticism, debate, and control strategies (like always having the best airtight arguments). My own insecurity coupled with my newness on the journey with God left me vulnerable to make the very ‘truths’ of the Gospel weapons against others.
Our 16th century companion, Teresa of Avila, sees this possibility in her extraordinarily insightful way. Having traversed into the “addiction treatment center” of the First Mansion (which exposed the depth of our attachments) and having enjoyed the graces of good teachers and spiritual books and many consolations of the Second Mansion, we now find ourselves in the Third Mansion with our new faith resources making idols out of the very good things that God was using to grow us. This is the danger with just about anything, but can be particularly acute when the weapons we fashion are faith weapons.
Of course, we fashion these weapons out of fear. Teresa writes, “It is such a burden to be alive when we have to walk around like men with enemies at their threshold. They live in perpetual fear that their adversaries might discover a weak spot and break through with a surprise attack.” Always prepared to give a defense, these souls see themselves as God’s warriors, often doctrinal policemen, who have it figured out and are ready to pounce if you cross their lines. She says, “We fear everything and everything offends us.” Oh, how I can relate!
But Teresa is, as always, so kind. She sees the folly in this. She sees it in her, in fact. She cites David and Solomon, mixed souls that they were, reminding us that even if we perceive ourselves as God’s closest friends we might actually be missing the point. She says, “No matter how much we’ve served God, we have also let him down. It’s foolish to walk around thinking we have any special entitlement.” She says, “We would be trudging under the load of our own egos, like mud clinging to our boots and dragging us down.”
Oh, humility. Thank the Lord for Teresa’s gentle but honest way. It is, in fact, always the way of humility. This is whole point of the inward journey. The way of self-knowledge is humbling, as our own folly is exposed time and again, as our own agendas are revealed, our strategies unmasked, our bitterness seen, our fear-based control strategies unveiled. What do we do? Where do we go?
Teresa says, “Humility, I say! Humility is the ointment for our wounds. If we are truly humble, then God, the great Physician, will eventually come to heal us.” In other words, Teresa is showing us how even our best efforts continue to lead us to the end of ourselves, which is the beginning of God…which is, in sum, the Gospel. “Since I cannot un-be what I have been, all I can do is take refuge in his compassion and trust in the excellence of his Son.”
Control-and-security strategies do not discriminate. They are found on the right and on the left, in the Reformed theologian and the liberation theologian, in the pastor and the layperson, in the young seminary student or the wise old prof, in the contemplative and the active. No matter our bent, we are not immune. So, channeling Teresa, here are some helpful things to keep in mind as you let the Third Mansion do its humbling work on your soul:
- Do you experience some sense of having “arrived”? How?
- Do you experience frustration that others don’t “get it”? How?
- When you find yourself in disagreement, is your posture curiosity or correction?
- Do you find yourself impatient with the slow process of change in others?
- Is your first inclination to think, “What am I missing?” or “What are they missing?”
- Do you derive a sense of power from belonging to a group of like-minded folks?
- Is there an experience or a belief or a cause that others must participate in before they have your respect?
- Do you feel a sense that God has specially called you to inform/correct/rebuke/challenge others?
- Do you experience a need to protect, defend, or prove yourself often?
- Do you experience a sense that others are trying to take something from you? (whether that is taking away your privilege, your power, your position, etc.)
- How do others experience you when you are animated by the ideas you prize most? (humble, certain, arrogant, dismissive, curious…)
- Are you in a place of receiving regular honest feedback from others who can and will say hard things to you? How is your posture of receptivity in this relationship?
These are diagnostic questions to begin the journey, but it’s up to you and to me to continue to re-visit the Third Mansion when our control-and-security strategies rear their ugly heads.
If you’d like to read more on security strategies, I wrote this several years ago related to how we become modern day Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. Enjoy.
Until next time, remember the words of St. Teresa: Humility, I say! Humility is the ointment for our wounds.
Catch up on the series, and join a significant group of people all over who are reading along and processing the journey with the book resources listed below.
Blog Post 1 – Introduction – (Re)Union
Blog Post 2 – Out of Illusions, Into the Depths
Blog Post 3 – Entering the Journey | St. Teresa’s First Mansion
Blog Post 4 – Resources for the Journey | The Second Mansion
Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila translated by Mirabai Starr (I love Starr’s translation of Teresa, John, Lady Julian, etc. She is a fresh new translator of these classic works. Her introduction alone is worth the price of the book.)
Entering the Castle, Caroline Myss (this book is the cheapest investment in your own therapy you’ll ever experience, though the emotional and spiritual investment may be costly!)
Into the Silent Land, Martin Laird (this is best accessible introduction to the purpose and practice of contemplative prayer I know. Laird is an Augustinian priest teaching early Christian studies at Villanova U.)