I am not always humble, but I have a great respect for humility. It’s the Christian virtue that the mystics seem to have in most abundance. When opening a text like Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle or Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God, you assume that you’ll find someone full of deep, gnomic wisdom and complicated thoughts and ideas. Instead you find people whose wisdom is chatty and deeply human. You feel like you’re talking to a friend on a long car ride. The conversation is deep but the person you’re with isn’t trying to show that they’re particularly deep – they’re investigating their own questions as you’re investigating yours. Being honest about one’s own questions seems to be the key to having wisdom in humility. There really are no spiritual experts, no one who has figured everything out. There are practitioners, people who have prayed long and hard, and will tell you the fruit of their prayers, and maybe something about their practice, without trying to mystify you with complicated systems or procedures. In the end, the most surprising thing about true mysticism is how down to earth and honest it is. In the passage below, Brother Lawrence talks about his struggles with complex systems and practices. He’s open and honest about the fact that they seemed intent on teaching him something he already knew, and that he didn’t need them. But that’s not because he isn’t humble. It’s exactly his humility that allows him to see through the scaffolding surrounding a life with God, and perceive God’s presence and love for him just as it is, unencumbered by anything that obfuscated or tries to be “mystical.”
The apprehension that I was not devoted to God as I wished to be, my past sins always present to my mind, and the great unmerited favors which God did me, were the source of my sufferings and feelings of unworthiness. I was sometimes troubled with thoughts that to believe I had received such favors was an effect of my imagination, which pretended to be so soon where others arrived with great difficulty. At other times I believed that it was a willful delusion and that there really was no hope for me. Finally, I considered the prospect of spending the rest of my days in these troubles. I discovered this did not diminish the trust I had in God at all. In fact, it only served to increase my faith. It then seemed that, all at once, I found myself changed. My soul, which, until that time was in trouble, felt a profound inward peace, as if she were in her center and place of rest.