AdventWord 2019: 4. Humble

December 4, 2019
Advent Reflections

In the crypt of the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, a painting in an apse represents Mary, the mother of Jesus, surrounded by the disciples on Pentecost. A glittering golden mosaic depicts rays of light descending from a dove: the Holy Spirit is being poured out on every disciple and Mary. While all the disciples have their eyes opened, their heads lifted up or turned in various directions, Mary, at the centre, holds her eyes closed, facing the viewer.

Her expression is of perfect serenity. She is focused, in the orans position – her hands outstretched sideways, palms up – which contrasts with the agitation of the disciples’ hands, indicating their confusion and interactions with each other. Mary is silent, in a position of prayer, alert and deeply peaceful. Her confidence is contagious, and nothing seems to be able to distract her from listening to God, being in communion with God, in a position that reminds us of her son on the cross. The expression on Mary’s face reflects for me what it means to be humble.

Humility and humiliation are two very different attitudes which are conflated, alas, way too often. Mary’s serene openness and confidence come forward through her expression. Her peace and trust are conveyed in a very powerful – though unassuming – way.

She is. She is herself. She does not need to seek power or recognition. She is not afraid of losing any of them. She does not need to prove anything. She remains herself, in the midst of the agitation around, and her confidence is contagious.

Being humble in leadership and in partnership is crucial, perhaps especially if we say that we are Christians. If we develop our capacity to listen carefully, to open ourselves to the other, while intentionally staying focused on our main purpose, even in the midst of agitation and distress, we will discover new ways of partnering with others. Our ultimate partnership is with God and through prayer, we are given the gift of having our expectations, preconceptions, fears, love of power, and need of recognition being transformed. What matters is no longer what we can get from the world, but what we can give.

[Learn more about the important work of Global Partnerships in The Episcopal Church]

In the season of Advent, we hear the story of the Annunciation, we await the coming of Christ, and we walk this path with Mary. We hear the story of her partnership with God: her encounter with the angel Gabriel – a messenger from God – her careful listening of what is presented to her, and her careful answer. Her life is dramatically and forever transformed, as the world is dramatically and forever transformed. Global Partnerships is centred on our very partnership with God. Through it, we accept our responsibility in this world and commit ourselves to listen carefully to God, to others, to God through others, knowing that it will transform us and transform the world around us.

In Mary, we find the best example of what can come to be through humble partnership.