It occurs to me that the church hasn’t always been helpful when it comes to teaching us about humility. In many corners of church tradition humiliation has been the not-so-hidden message and off-the-mark goal lurking behind the use of the word “humility”.
“Humble” has its roots in humilis (“low”) and humus, (“Earth”). Humility points us to the ground of our being and is the result of an honest, un-ego-embellished glimpse at ourselves. This may occasionally be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be painful.
The journey toward meaning relies on the discovery of who we are at the depth of our being. An honest view of our unadorned heart can provide guidance correction for our sometimes wobbly inner gyroscope. A humbling experience brings us back to Earth; it is helpful and can (often does, in fact) feel good.
The derivation of “humiliate”, on the other hand, rests solely in humilis (“low”). It is triggered by mean words or actions — even from a church leader, who, in my way of thinking, should know better. It often springs from the need to “lower” someone, forcing them down in order to elevate the ego-blinded self of the perpetrator.
Humiliation involves the misuse of power, invites us into shame, and always hurts. To be humiliated is to be lost, even if only for a moment.
Humility is a gift that invites us into awe and welcomes us home. To be humbled is to find one’s place.