We Seek Humility

crucifixion from Anchor Commentary on MarkBy Reverend Katie Snipes Lancaster

Perfect humility implies perfect confidence in the power of God. —Thomas Merton

In these days before Easter, the ground is frozen, and the earth smells more cold than earthy, more icy than sweet.  Maybe you take to the ski slopes in these days of winter, escaping the Chicago slush for a colder, crisper, powdery snow that whisks you down mountains; a love for winter can be fostered if you have the right mentors. But, in Lent, this season of waiting, of preparing, I can’t help but think of the daily turn toward spring, each day giving us just one more minute of sunlight, one less day of waiting until Easter ushers us into the grandeur of new life with crocus sneaking up through the still-cold soil, little green and purple signs of hope pushing up through the dirt.

Maybe you are already close to the dirt: you keep plants indoors on your windowsill, or keep a home in a warmer climate where you have already planted pole beans and peas in little rows. But, in this season of waiting, in this season of humility, I cannot stop thinking about the dirt—about this deep connection between humility and soil, the etymological roots connecting humility to the Latin word humus, or dirt. In our earliest sacred stories, our ancestors imagine God scooping up dirt—in Hebrew this dirt is called adamah—and breathing life into it. Thus, Adam is the first earthling, the first person of the dirt, the dust.

Are we, then, humble by birth? Might all things opposite humility—pride or arrogance or impolite pretentiousness—be learned behavior, unnatural, ungrounded? And, given its earthy origins, does humility ground us? One writer put it this way, “The ground constitutes our humble beginnings, whether called primordial stardust, organically rich soil, microbial material, or simply slime.” The Lenten Psalm 51 prays, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” but maybe it is less a bleached or chlorinated kind of clean, and more the earthy, fresh, clean soil smell of spring. Maybe John 3:16 can be reimagined “For God so loved the dirt.” As we seek humility this Lenten season, maybe we can seek the dirt, seek the earth, and in doing so seek the One-who-breathes-life-into-all-things.