BE WHO YOU SAY YOU ARE
Gandhi wrote, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Gandhi could have been a Benedictine. Humility is about living an integrated life, a life in which each part is in harmony with every other dimension.
What we think, what we say, and the way we go about life cannot be well lived when they are in opposition to one another. When, in fact, they simply cancel one another out, there is no integrity left to any of them. The person who lives a lie, for instance, no matter how effective otherwise, is in tension every moment of the day. The person who pretends to be something they are not—wealthy, credentialed, in emotional control—cannot function openly anywhere.
The truth is that we are meant to be transparent. People, hearing what we say, should know what we think. Seeing what we do with our lives, people can infer what we care about and how we think about things. If we say one thing but think another, somewhere, somehow, it all begins to seep out. Worst of all, the burden of hiding exhausts a person from the soul on out.
St. Benedict in the chapter on humility is quite direct about the intertwined life of soul, body, and emotions as the measure of integrity, strength, serenity, and freedom. In the final step of humility, his clarity is so simple it is stunning. He writes: Our humility “is evident at the Opus Dei, in the oratory, the monastery, or the garden, on a journey or in the field, or anywhere else.”
The directions are achingly pure: Be what you say you are. Do not lie, even to yourself. Don’t live two lives— loving parent/missing parent; honest employee/cheating employee; devoted public servant/self-absorbed public servant. The truth is that egotism is the bane of community building. No one can build anything that lasts when the materials are bogus.
At the end, three things measure both our integrity and the harmony of our own lives: self-control, respect, and freedom from self-deception. Self-control is the key to spiritual development. To be too much or too little of anything in one dimension of my life creates imbalance in the other dimensions as well. Respect for other people not only measures my humility but opens me to the wisdom around us as well. Freedom from the demon of self-deception gives me the chance to go on growing just when I think I have reached my height, plumbed my depths, and know it all. The demons are behind me, the way ahead is open, the self becomes an eternal enterprise in process.
Then, at the height of the ladder, three things happen: First, we look back and realize that the journey has not been a series of exercises. It has been a process of slow and self-emptying transformation. We find ourselves involved in an entire reorientation of the self—away from the exhausting demands of narcissism to the softening and holy-making ventures of humility.
Second, we see that the change in our mindset and demeanor have enabled us to relax into the arms of God. At that point life becomes more an adventure than a threat, more a ride steering through the rapids than a collision with the rocks.
Third, we begin to realize that we have been saved from our driving, pounded, teeth-grinding selves enough to enjoy the rest of the adventure called life, learning, becoming, growing as we go. The essence of Benedictine spirituality, a spirituality of growth in God and in human community, is a ladder that is grounded in the presence of God and reaches up and out beyond itself to concern for the world in which we live.
—from Radical Spirit (Random House), by Joan Chittister