Unfortunately, rather as the concept of obedience gets mechanised and debased into “Simon says,” humility gets mistaken for a perpetual state of grovelling.
What if humility, far more than grovelling, is actually about being earthed, feet on the ground, open eyed about self and everyone else? Embracing the way of humility means commitment to being radically realistic — “Don’t be afraid to see what you see” — a kind of holy pragmatism underlying everything. As often happens, Joan Chittister gets the matter bang to rights:
True humility is simply a measure of the self that is taken without exaggerated approval or exaggerated guilt. Humility is the ability to know ourselves as God knows us, and to know that it is the little we are that is precisely our claim on God. Humility, then, is the foundation for our relationship with God, our connectedness to others, our acceptance of ourselves, our way of using the goods of the earth and even our way of walking through the world, without arrogance, without domination, without scorn, without put-downs, without disdain, without self-centredness. The more we know ourselves, the gentler we will be with others...
The chapter on humility is a strangely wonderful and intriguingly distressing treatise on the process of the spiritual life. It does not say, "Be perfect." It says, "Be honest about what you are and you will come to know God." It does not say, "Be flawless and you will earn God." It says, "If you recognize the presence of God in life, you will soon become more and more perfect." But this perfection is not in the twentieth-century sense of impeccability. This perfection is in the biblical sense of having become matured, ripened, whole.
The entire chapter is such a nonmechanistic, totally human approach to God. If we reach out and meet God here where God is, if we accept God's will in life where our will does not prevail, if we are willing to learn from others, if we can see ourselves and accept ourselves for what we are and grow from that, if we can live simply, if we can respect others and reverence them, if we can be a trusting part of our world without having to strut around it controlling it, changing it, wrenching it to our own image and likeness, then we will have achieved "perfect love that casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). There will be nothing left to fear — not God's wrath, not the loss of human respect, not the absence of control, not the achievements of others greater than our own whose success we have had to smother with rejection or deride with scorn.
Humility, the lost virtue of the twentieth century, is crying to heaven for rediscovery. The development of nations, the preservation of the globe, the achievement of human community may well depend on it.