Humility has had something of a bad rap over recent decades. It has often been seen as weakness in contrast to power, vulnerability in the face of aggression, and self-effacement in place of self-promotion. But is that truly what humility is?
Perhaps an answer lies in the story celebrated this time each year, particularly the role played by a remarkable young woman. Millions of Christmas cards annually portray Mary meekly cradling the infant Jesus, whose birth was the promised arrival of a long-anticipated Messiah. But they can’t begin to depict the powerful spiritual backstory of this meek mother.
Mary’s child grew to be humanity’s greatest benefactor, pointing the way beyond the burdens of material belief by proving the truer, spiritual nature of all, as God’s children. Yet did the Bethlehem babe’s birth coincide with a glimpse of this divine idea? Yes, according to another woman named Mary—Mary Baker Eddy.
Pointing to “the glorious perception that God is the only author of man,” the founder of Christian Science wrote in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “The Virgin-mother conceived this idea of God, and gave to her ideal the name of Jesus—that is, Joshua, or Saviour.”
This unconventional conception, then, did not take place in a vacuum. It was the outcome of a clear spiritual awareness. Mary’s humility before the reality of pure Spirit, God, enabled the accepted wisdom that matter makes the rules to be overruled.
“The illumination of Mary’s spiritual sense put to silence material law and its order of generation, and brought forth her child by the revelation of Truth, demonstrating God as the Father of men,” Science and Health explains. And it adds: “The Holy Ghost, or divine Spirit, overshadowed the pure sense of the Virgin-mother with the full recognition that being is Spirit. The Christ dwelt forever an idea in the bosom of God, the divine Principle of the man Jesus, and woman perceived this spiritual idea, though at first faintly developed” (p. 29).
What’s striking about these insights into the Virgin-mother’s experience is how they indicate she wasn’t just a passive recipient of a God-given “miracle” child. She (mentally) conceived the idea of God through exercising pure (spiritual) sense. She perceived the spiritual idea, whose full development would emerge in her hallowed son. And she was humble enough to receive a revelation from divine Mind that resulted in the unique event celebrated globally each Christmas.
As described in the opening chapter of Luke, when she got the extraordinary message from God that she was to bear the child who would be the promised Messiah, Mary responded meekly, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (verse 38).
Humility can replace both self-effacement and self-promotion with unselfed love for all, including ourselves.
You could say this illustrates how meekness can be the gateway to finding out just how special each individual is as a child of God. In Mary’s case, uniquely so. “Among all women on the earth, you have been blessed,” is how one Bible translation summarizes the yielding of the Virgin-mother to this divine calling (Luke 1:28, The Voice). So the nature of Mary’s entry into motherhood was a one-time historical occurrence. But the way it occurred—Science and Health points to “Mary’s self-conscious communion with God” (pp. 29–30)—indicates a capacity we all have to open our hearts to God’s guidance revealing the distinct way we are each called to love Him and serve our fellow men and women.
So while humility is commonly defined as a modest view of one’s importance, in spiritual terms it is almost the opposite. It includes modesty in relating to others, but it also means mentally bowing to the spiritual fact that we’re each vital to God’s complete expression of Himself. Without any one of us, His glorious expression would be incomplete.
Nor is this a spiritual abstraction. The words and healing works of the child born to Mary show us our profound worth as God’s unique expressions. When urging the value of meekness to those who heard his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that by doing so they’d inherit the earth. One Bible paraphrases that as finding ourselves “proud owners of everything that can’t be bought” (Matthew 5:5, Eugene Peterson, The Message).
In this way, humility is spiritual power. It can free us from claims of material weakness, whether sickness or self-destructive behavior. It can disentangle us from beliefs of vulnerability to others’ attitudes and actions. And it can replace both self-effacement and self-promotion with unselfed love for all, including ourselves.
We can, of course, prayerfully reach for this meek and mighty understanding during the holidays. But why seek out something so liberating only once a year? Gaining the right apprehension of our relationship to the Divine makes daily sense. It can make us happier and more loving at any time of the year and open our hearts to needed healing for ourselves and others.
Additionally, doing so throughout the year can contribute to progress we wish to see in the wider world. As 20th-century women’s rights campaigner Helen Steiner Rice said: “Peace on earth will come to stay, / When we live Christmas every day” (Daniel A. Armah, Lessons of Christmas, Xulon Press, 2011, p. 178).
So let’s live Christmas throughout 2017 by following in the healing footsteps of the Way-shower, Christ Jesus, and by echoing the example of that bold young woman whose commitment to “self-conscious communion with God” illustrated the power of humility available to us all.
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