We all can use a check on our humility every now and then. But what does it really mean to be humble? Missioner Candidate Jeff Sved shares his reflection on this topic that was discussed on this past week’s formation retreat.

Photo by Ian W Scott

I wish there was an embarrassing story of some great episode of public humiliation to spark this reflection. Sadly though, it is grounded, simply and purely, in my love for words.

Humility for much of my life has come with a negative connotation. Being humble was more of a disowning of gifts or talents and letting those blessing go wasted. Humiliation was even worse. For most, humiliation is a negative occurrence, and while in hindsight can lead to humility, it is a word tied to many unpleasant experiences.

Humiliate literally means to make low. Humiliation is the act of being made low. Because humiliation is a step against the current of a success-driven society it is feared. It is a step down instead of those all important steps upward.

But doesn’t Jesus tell us that those who wish to be first must be a servant to all, for those who are last will be first. In this light humiliation can be viewed as a spiritual discipline. Humiliation is intentional steps toward lowliness and toward God.

In bringing us “down” humiliation brings us more in touch with what it means to be human. At the core, humility, humiliation, and humanity share the same root of humus: ground.

This shouldn’t be surprising considering the Hebrew name for the first man in Genesis: adam, is strikingly similar to the Hebrew word for ground adamah. “Adam” was not so much a title, but a description. We are all sacred little dirt clods, ground that is animated by the divine spirit of God.

To be human is to be aware of one’s grounded nature. Humiliation is the process of reminding oneself of that grounded nature. Humility is staying grounded.

Hopefully formation continues to be a process of humiliation!