Kind of a Big Deal
Reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict
This is a high school speech class move to begin saying, “Websters defines ___ as . . .,” but I’ll give it a go here saying, “Merriam-Webster defines humility as ‘the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people.’” Humility isn’t lack of skills or ability or self-confidence; it’s the ability to do what you do and be who you are without the need to see yourself as better than another. I wrote about this last year, noting that humility is built into monastic life. Benedict mentions humility when he mentions the artisans of the community. Monasteries include talented people--writers, musicians, artists, and craftsmen--but Benedict says in Chapter 57 these artisans “must practice their craft with all humility.” Benedict says if one in the community thinks his skills makes him kind of a big deal, he doesn’t get to practice his craft until he learns humility. If the artisan “becomes puffed up by his skillfulness . . . and feels he is conferring something on the monastery, he is to be removed from practicing.”
This is a human thing. You remember the kid on the playground (or a time or two you were that kid) who was the best at the game and needed to let everyone know about. I remember a guy in high school choir who had a beautiful voice, and another said about him, “Yeah, and he’ll let you know about it, too.” Pastors know how this works, too: we get together and do our best to slip in a humble-brag about how much our church has grown. We live in a time of elaborate touchdown dances and rap braggadocio. Monastic communities, just like any community, church, or family, feature talented people, but Benedict leaves no space for one to boast or brag. They all dress the same, live in the same circumstances, and worship with the same humility, knowing that we’re all equals when it comes to God’s grace, leaving no space for bragging-rights.
If you have a talent or ability that others don’t have by all means use it well, and use it as a gift to others. But do what you do quietly. If it’s important enough, others will notice; they won’t need you to point it out to them.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict