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Nadine Rorem

N rorem 100x100Communal Humility (aka humble creatures)

Nadine Rorem, Ph.D. Professor of Biology

One re-occurring concept in my readings, when teaching students about creation care and during this CACE seminar is the concept of our creatureliness in the context of God’s entire creation and human community.   I find that students and faculty, and many humans for that matter, need continual reminders that we too are creatures having been created by God. The truth of sharing creatureliness with other members of creation can be a unique and sometimes uncomfortable concept for some.  Perhaps the reminder of being a creature is easier for me to embrace since I am a biologist and grew up spending every waking moment that I could outside among creeks and rivers, forest and fields and with the plethora of critters present in these places.  I often wonder if one of the barriers to embracing our creatureliness is due to more prevalent urban living spaces in conjunction with a society that promotes individuality.

I recall fond memories of farmers I lived among in western Minnesota and how they emulated humility in their relationship to God, their Creator and the land.  There was an unspoken interdependence on God and on each other in Morris, Minnesota.  These folks knew who they really were in the big picture of God’s creation. I wonder if a loss of dependency on God (or perhaps better stated as a lack of ‘acknowledging’ God’s provision in our lives?) and reliance on one another have diluted or eroded the type of humility we discussed and experienced with one another during the recent CACE seminar. Or perhaps the societal preoccupation on our personal needs and the pride of life have diminished our ability to be humble.

In Norman Wirzba’s book titled: Agrarian Spirit: Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land we are  once again reminded of our creatureliness and vulnerability as human creatures in God’s creation. I often find my students becoming resistant when I refer to us as creatures.  They think I am inferring that we are considered equal to other critters and not uniquely created in the image of God. That is NOT what I am inferring. I am simply stating the fact that we are created beings, human beings.

One of the many things I appreciated about this CACE seminar is that the participating faculty were from diverse cultural backgrounds and academic disciplines.  But in spite of obvious differences, we became a community of Christ-followers with a shared interest in our relationship to God, the land and to one another.  A colleague and I were tasked to present a summary of chapter 7 in Wirzba’s book titled ‘Learning Humility’. In this chapter Wirzba states: “Humble people have learned to position themselves gratefully, graciously, and generously within a world that moves through the receiving and sharing of the gifts of God.” Wirzba continues by stating that the purpose of the chapter regarding humility is to “develop an account of humility that is attuned to creaturely need and vulnerability but is also directed to cultivating the sympathy and gentleness that are crucial for the healing of our wounded communities and places”. I find that the truth of creatureliness is a freeing concept related to ‘being’ fully human. We can find true peace if we embrace the truth of what it means to be a human being.  (John 8:32: “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”).

During the CACE seminar I sensed a shared desire and peace to learn together in the context of community.  We learned from each other. Each person brough unique perspectives, knowledge and thoughts about what it means to be connected to and a part of God’s creation. I sensed a shared humility in the context of community as we discussed our reading and we all worked together at Tiffany Kriner’s farm. The day was so rewarding because of the conversations we had, meals we shared and work we accomplished together.

Furthermore, Wirzba states “Put another way, when people embody humility they witness to the truth of their humanity as creatures called to praise God precisely in the honoring of this world and its life. The world God creates is a vulnerable world susceptible to pain and suffering. To live well and beautifully within it, people must not only affirm the good of their need. They must also learn the skills of gentleness and compassion that are essen­tial to life that is always life together.” Although our seminar was 3 days, I sensed a genuine openness to learning from each other in the context of community. I experienced a space that welcomed openness, vulnerability and compassion.

Wirzba references Simone Weil’s book Gravity and Grace and addresses her description of humility.  Weil writes, “Humility is the refusal to exist outside of God.”  Wirzba expounds on her work: “Weil’s description of humility alerts us to the porous, vulnerable, and rooted character of a human life. To be human is essentially to be open to others like a seed that opens to its soil environment by extend­ing roots that receive and give nurture in return (John 12:24).” As Jesus tells us in John 12:24 (NIV): “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” In a Christian communal context, we are often called to ‘die to ourselves’ for the good of others. Sometimes when we want to help others flourish, whether ‘others’ are other human beings or other portions of creation such as land and fellow creatures, we need to surrender our desires for the good of something or someone other than ourselves.  Doing this can require an intentional positions of one’s heart and mind.  We have a choice to live as humble beings in community with all of creation, in what I see as communal humility.


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