Humility and Worship

In Homilies on John 25, 16, St. Augustine declares: “God has become man; you, man, recognize that you are a human being.  The sum of humility for you consists in knowing yourself.”  For Augustine, this self-knowledge includes, among other things, knowing that one is a sinner and knowing that one is loved by God and indeed that God offers redemption and salvation to sinners.  Truly knowing oneself, then, is connected to taking up a stance of praise and gratitude toward God.  It is connected to worship.

Scripture reminds us that humility is a prerequisite for the kind of worship that God deems proper.  We find such reminders in 2 Chron 7:14 (“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land”) and in the words of Ps 51:17 concerning acceptable sacrifice (“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”).

Yet there is more.  Humility is a precondition for worship of God but humility is also something that *leads* to worship of God that is *communal.*  The opening lines of Ps 34 invite the humble to hear the psalmist’s praise of God and to join in that praise: “I will bless the Lord at all times; / his praise shall continually be in my mouth. / My soul makes its boast in the Lord; / let the humble hear and be glad. / O magnify the Lord with me, / and let us exalt his name together.” Ps 51:13 indicates a communal context insofar as the psalmist promises to “teach transgressors your way” so that “sinners will return to you.”  In verse 15, the psalmist promises to “declare your praise.”  As in Ps 34, in Ps 145:21, declaring the praise of God amounts to an invitation to join in that praise: “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, / and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.”

Humility as a precondition for worship and as contributing factor to participation in worship can remind us all that liturgy and life form a closed circuit and yet a circuit that opens to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, as Isa 58:1-8 makes clear:

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? / Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” / Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, / and oppress all your workers. / Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight / and to strike with a wicked fist. / Such fasting as you do today / will not make your voice heard on high. / Is such the fast that I choose, / a day to humble oneself? / Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, / and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? / Will you call this a fast, / a day acceptable to the Lord? / Is not this the fast that I choose: / to loose the bonds of injustice, / to undo the thongs of the yoke, / to let the oppressed go free, / and to break every yoke? / Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, / and bring the homeless poor into your house; / when you see the naked, to cover them, / and not to hide yourself from your own kin? / Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, / and your healing shall spring up quickly; / your vindicator shall go before you, / the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

One comment

  1. Thank you for this wonderful post! Provokes both thought and examination of conscience.
    I like the imagery of a circuit. I agree that communal worship leads to communal commitment to justice, and that acts of justice and care in turn lead to communal worship. And that the intersection of the personal and the communal is a spirit of humility – an acknowledgement of our brokenness – our sinfulness.

    We live in a secular culture seething with rage, amid communal forces that want to sort us into us and them, good and evil, oppressors and oppressed, without any reference to personal limits or failings, nor any reference to the God whose breaking-in and agape is what vivifies and sustains our communal life. The secular culture is roaring like a lion or shouting like a furious mob, seeking to punish and injure and exact revenge rather than reconciling, healing and giving life. Reconciliation between the haves and the have-nots in our world seems possible when all of us acknowledge our brokenness and need for healing. Alas, that is not the Zeitgeist.

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