Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the LORD, and humility comes before honor.
In his book, Heaven Begins Within You, Fr. Anselm Gruen describes the wisdom of the desert fathers as a “spirituality from below.” It’s a wonderful term that speaks of one of the more counter-intuitive paradoxes of Christian spiritual direction—that in order to rise, we must first descend. And descent, for the Christian, is always a matter of more fully embracing the humble poverty of our being.
For the desert fathers, the way to God naturally leads to deeper self-knowledge, which will always produce humility in us. In other words, we ascend to God by descending more honestly into our own reality. To grow in humility then is to have the courage to face this truth, to accept the humus of our humanity. Only those who fully embrace their earth-bound condition can experience a true relationship with God. As Gruen writes,
Humility is the test of whether one is truly living with the spirit of God or not. Without humility we always risk taking over God for our own purposes. Humility is the prerequisite for letting God be God, for developing a true sense of God as the wholly Other.
A maturing relationship with truth inevitably produces humility in us. It unveils our false self as God’s light reveals to us the untruths we have otherwise been living under. As Gruen observes,
Humility is the appropriate human response to a true experience of God. The closer people come to God, the humbler they get. They recognize how far removed they are from God’s holiness.
Humility, then, is both the path that leads to God as well as the disposition by which the ultimate goal of our faith—unity with God—is arrived at. It is the means as well as the end of spiritual maturity. Gruen writes,
The place where we meet our own powerlessness is precisely where we become most open to God. For it is only when we are stripped of our own sense of sufficiency that we discover what God has in mind for us, and what divine grace can make of us.
Though we are often tempted to believe that poverty of spirit is something that must be overcome on our path to fulfillment, Jesus counters this with the opposite assurance—that our poverty of spirit, far from hindering us, is actually the place where we most directly encounter the blessing of intimate fellowship with God (Mt. 5:3).
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.