Both of my parents were educators. Well, you could say that they still are educators to my brother and I, because we are still learning from them about how to live and be in the world. They are saints in their own way. Truly, they are. Being raised by educators means a few interesting things. I can usually expect statements where they tell me how I can do things differently. It’s never malicious and its always out of care, so I try not to mind too much. Growing up, though, I can remember dinner conversations about new words we learned that day or dropping the occasional doctoral level theory about something or other.
So, that’s the background of why my brother and I enjoy words. We jokingly state that we have a terminal case of nerd, we are gonna die from it some day. I will admit that there is not much better than having a sibling who has studied just as long and as hard in the same disciplines of theology/philosophy. I thoroughly enjoy our chats/banter. Obviously, you also can’t have good banter without a good vocabulary… Thanks, Mom and Dad.
However, recently I have been interested in the word “humus.” No, not the mediterranean dip. That has two m’s, not one. “Humus” in this sense is the latin word for “earth” or “ground.”
“Humus” also creates the root or etymological basis for our words human, humble, humiliate, and humor…
Being human, then, means to be of the earth.
Being humble means to be grounded rather than in the clouds.
Being humiliated might mean to be placed beneath the ground, beneath what you are. (Which for the record is NOT in any of the teachings of Jesus.)
Humor, then, can lead to a return to being grounded in your being. Perhaps in this sense humor is carrying some of the same effect as to repent. Huh. Humor/repentance can both lower a person’s unhealthy pride about themselves but also raise a person’s unhealthy view of themselves. How about that…
Let me pause on this for a moment. I have been a fan of the idea that “God is not in the business of humiliation. But sometimes, humans, unfortunately are.” Unfortunately, there has been the idea communicated that to humiliate oneself or to demean oneself is synonymous with piety. This is heretical and psychologically abusive. So, cut that out and throw it away. Rant over.
All this goes to say that I think the world needs more humanity in it. However, when I say that it needs more humanity I mean that I think it need more humility and humor. I think that there is a multi-directional pull in having humility and humor toward oneself. As I hinted at before, there are times when we need to be brought back down to the earth, and I think there are times when we need to be raised up. You see, humility is not just to see yourself as small, it is to see yourself with perfectly honest and gracious eyes. That means that you observe and admit all of your successes and failures, glories and mistakes, triumphs and tries.
GK Chesterton onces remarked that “Humility is the mother of giants.” I love that quote, it draws me back to the saints of the church. Many of the saints were not known because of their successes, but because of their great humility that enabled them to serve anyone. In fact, it was in the act of becoming “grounded” as mortal humans but with dignity that the saints came to be regarded as giants, as legendary.
Its a curious dialectic, or paradox isn’t it? The ones that try to be great, end up being mere footnotes in the annals of history while the ones that gave even their shoes to the poor have books and songs written about them.
I could be wrong. But I think this is what the world needs, a healthy dose of humor and humility that remind us how to be human.
Funny thing is that I am writing this on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent. Usually, Lent is seen as a time of somber reflection, perhaps this Lent I will try to give up taking myself so darn seriously and try to have some more humor toward myself.