Sunday, November 5, 2017

Unconditional Faith through the Portal of Humility by Rev. Dr. Barbara Billey, Priest ARCWP, Heart of Compassion Faith Community, Windsor, ON, Canada (05 Nov 2017)

( left to right)Sharon Beneteau and Barbara Billey ARCWP on right with blue stole

Many people believe that to be humble is to be weak. From the Latin word humus or earth, humility means to be grounded in one's integrity and in spiritual terms, to be grounded in God. Humility asks us to know our values, to listen deeply to our inner promptings, and to act accordingly. Never in the history of our universe has God needed us to be more humble.
In contrast, to be humiliated is to be shamed or judged for our attitudes and behaviors. When we humiliate someone we believe our way of seeing is superior: the other person is wrong and I am right. These moralistic judgments serve to preserve our self-identity and leave little room for respecting people who are different from us.
Many of our political world leaders are practicing humiliation to pit us against each other and to systematically dismantle democracy. They spin propaganda that poisons our communication technologies with messages that are intended to distort truth and appropriate power. These tactics, used mostly by white supremacists, drive divisions so deep that many succumb to cultural white-washing: a calculated cleansing of difference. We in Canada are not immune from these influences and their dangerous effects.
Time and again throughout history we have seen the rise and fall of empires due to tyrannical governance. If we are unable to adhere to the prevailing populist agenda because we are not white, male and heterosexual, beware of the golden calf of nationalism that casts us into a corner of repudiation. 
In this kind of environment, to be different is deadly. Literally. Hate and violence become the norm in discourse and practice. De-regulation policies threaten to erode our political and financial structures, as well as our water, land and air. Our Canada-US free trade agreements are now at risk. We are vulnerable to the rich and those in power who accrete our personal and our natural resources for their gain. Fortunately, citizens and governments of Canada and other nations are uprising in coalitions and other forms of protest to defend our rights and freedoms and to preserve our economic stability.
"The greatest among you will be your servant"  (Matt 23:11). Jesus encountered similar political and social challenges in the early first century. Born in humble circumstances of refugee parents who fled the tyrant, Herod, Jesus was chased by danger until his death. He knew the graces and suffering of being human, yet he was steadfast in His mission of inclusive love, compassion for those in need and equality for all.
Jesus opposed oppressive political and religious leaders who laid heavy burdens upon people through double taxation and the confinements of Mosaic Law. He appealed to His followers to turn toward His teachings because they were His Abba/Amma's way of love and justice. No task or criticism was too demeaning for Jesus. He belonged to God and inspired His followers to experience the same. He endured humiliations of every kind, including the tortures of his passion and death. Jesus embodies humility. 
"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles herself will be exalted" (Matt 23:12). A recent film, The Queen and Abdul exemplifies humility in action. During her final years as the monarch of England in the early 20th century, Queen Victoria engages a Muslim servant from India as her teacher-confidant. This enrages her household and the British aristocracy.  Her resistance to their racism demonstrates the courage of a woman in power to abhor exclusion and she is a model of compassion for "the other". Queen Victoria exemplifies the strength we need in our leaders today.
We, too, commit a radical act of humility every time we gather for liturgy. We come to remember You, Jesus, and to praise You, Holy One. We come with our differences, with our joys and sorrows to recommit ourselves in Your ways. We lay down our self-identity with a desire to be transformed in You.
Not one of us wears phylacteries or tassels and no one has a place of honor at God's table. Our simple stoles mark our presence in sacred space where we, as a community of equals, are nourished by Jesus Christ. Many of us suffer humiliations by family members and friends for being here. In these acts of unconditional faith and interior integrity, we, like Jesus, embody humility.
St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century mystic and abyss of her Carmelite community captures the spiritual intention of  humility in her writings: "I put my soul in God's hands to serve only good in this situation that I feel powerless to change." She reminds us that Holy Presence is the source of our power. We need You, Sacred Spirit Love now more than ever.
To live in humility is to surrender to the moment and to listen to our in-dwelling Sacred wisdom, rather than be swayed by the pressures of others who need us to be other than God needs us to be. When the Divine prompts us to choice and action, humility gives us faith to boldly say, "Yes I will, no matter what the cost!" This process requires contemplative listening and acute mindfulness to help us surrender our attachments to habits of thinking and doing that bind us to our self-identity and sense of security. I ask each one of us to consider: What is my personal creed i.e. the beliefs that shape the foundation of my doing and being? How does this creed inspire me to address the urgencies of our present time? 
Jesus invites us into unconditional faith through the portal of humility. As modern-day mystics and sacred activists, our humility is necessary for addressing our complex local and global realities and to evolve the Sacred through us.
With gratitude to Rev. Dr. Michele Birch-Conery, Bishop ARCWP whose political insights inform some of the content of this homily, as well as Sharon Beneteau, a member of our Windsor faith community, for her experiential wisdom.


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