Humility has had something of a bad rap over recent decades. It has often been seen as weakness in contrast to power, vulnerability in the face of aggression, and self-effacement in place of self-promotion. But is that truly what humility is?
Perhaps an answer lies in the story celebrated this time each year, particularly the role played by a remarkable young woman. Millions of Christmas cards annually portray Mary meekly cradling the infant Jesus, whose birth was the promised arrival of a long-anticipated Messiah. But they can’t begin to depict the powerful spiritual backstory of this meek mother.
Mary’s child grew to be humanity’s greatest benefactor, pointing the way beyond the burdens of material belief by proving the true, spiritual nature of all, as God’s children. Yet did the babe’s birth itself coincide with a glimpse of this divine idea?
Yes, according to another woman named Mary – Mary Baker Eddy. Pointing to “the glorious perception that God is the only author of man,” the discoverer of Christian Science wrote in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” “The Virgin-mother conceived this idea of God, and gave to her ideal the name of Jesus – that is, Joshua, or Saviour” (p. 29).
This unconventional conception, then, did not take place in a vacuum. It was the outcome of a clear spiritual awareness. Science and Health explains, “The Holy Ghost, or divine Spirit, overshadowed the pure sense of the Virgin-mother with the full recognition that being is Spirit. The Christ dwelt forever an idea in the bosom of God, the divine Principle of the man Jesus, and woman perceived this spiritual idea, though at first faintly developed” (p. 29).
What’s striking about these insights is how they indicate the Virgin-mother wasn’t just a passive recipient of a “miracle” child. Through exercising pure (spiritual) sense, she perceived the spiritual idea whose full development would emerge in her hallowed son. And she was humble enough to receive a revelation from God, the divine Mind.
As described in the Bible, when she got the extraordinary message from God that she was to bear the child who would be the promised Messiah, Mary responded, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).
You could say this illustrates how meekness can be the gateway to finding out just how special each individual is as a child of God. The nature of Mary’s entry into motherhood was a one-time historical occurrence. But the way it occurred indicates a capacity we all have to open our hearts to God’s guidance revealing the distinct way we are each called to love Him and serve our fellow men and women.
So while humility is commonly defined as a modest view of one’s importance, in spiritual terms it is almost the opposite. It includes mentally bowing to the spiritual fact that we’re each vital to God’s complete expression of Himself. Without any one of us, His glorious expression would be incomplete.
The words and healing works of the child born to Mary show us our profound worth as God’s unique expressions. When urging the value of being meek to those who heard his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that by doing so they’d inherit the earth. Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” Bible translation paraphrases that as finding ourselves “proud owners of everything that can’t be bought” (Matthew 5:5).
In this way, humility is spiritual power. It can free us from sickness and self-destructive behavior. It can disentangle us from a sense of vulnerability to others’ attitudes and actions. And it can replace both self-effacement and self-promotion with unselfed love for all, including ourselves.
We can, of course, prayerfully reach for this meek and mighty understanding during the holidays. But doing this can make us happier and more loving at any time of the year and open our hearts to needed healing for ourselves and others. As 20th-century women’s rights campaigner Helen Steiner Rice said: “Peace on earth will come to stay, / When we live Christmas every day” (Daniel A. Armah, “Lessons of Christmas,” p. 178).
So let’s live Christmas throughout 2019 by following in the healing footsteps of Christ Jesus and by echoing the example of that bold young Mary who illustrated the power of humility available to us all.
Adapted from an editorial published in the Dec. 19, 2016, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.