Lessons in Humility From an Ancient Letter

Lessons in Humility From an Ancient Letter


“Humility is seeing yourself as you really are. It’s that simple.” Dive deeper into the practice of humility and how simple it can truly be.

It is a beautiful cold morning and the meteorologist says it is supposed to snow throughout the day. So, I build a warm fire and decide I’m in for the day.

By now it’s mid-afternoon and I know that Carolynn will be nervous about leaving the mail in the mailbox overnight; mail theft is a real possibility in our rural area. If I collect the mail now Carolynn will rest easier tonight. Our mailbox is half a mile down the road and with this snow (fully seven inches now and well on its way to ten, maybe twelve) driving will be difficult. Thus, I decide to walk down and secure the mail. Besides, I am wondering if this little task just might be a small act of humility for me. I layer my clothes, take my trekking poles, and set out.

Today the anonymous and deeply mystical 14th century writing The Cloud of Unknowing comes to mind. I think I remember two or three chapters in it devoted to the subject of humility. I’ll look them up and see what I can learn. In my past excursions into The Cloud I have tended to breeze through a section and afterward walk away confused. Or worse yet, I would arrogantly assume that the book has nothing to teach me. So, I need to remember that here slow, slow, slow is the way forward.

Here is a statement I especially like which connects loving contemplation to humility. I found it in chapter twenty-five ofThe Cloud: “As I said before, this little act of loving called contemplation mysteriously contains humility and charity, as well as all the other virtues.” I’ll need to sit with this one for a while.

Coming back to The Cloud after several years away from it I am immediately struck by three things. First, I am struck by the refreshing beauty of a non-self-promoting author. Today it seems that an author’s writing skills or whether they actually have something to say are far less important than the size of the author’s platform, how popularity can be increased, and how much coverage the author can garner. On and on ad nauseam. The Cloud’s language reveals an articulate and engaging author. But, while scholars have worked hard to discover the identity of this author, all efforts have failed. I rather imagine this is just the way our anonymous author wanted it.

I have no answer to our contemporary dilemma. But I am refreshed by the author’s complete freedom from human praise. Perhaps his or her personal obscurity is an important teaching in itself.

Second, I am struck by how dynamic and contemporary the message ofThe Cloud feels. The one specific detail we do know about this book is that our anonymous author is writing to a twenty-four-year-old who is also anonymous to us. Talk about speaking to the heart needs of Millennials! Here is a resource par excellence for the twenty-something person who wants to move beyond the superficialities of modern culture.

Third, I am struck by the gentle wisdom found in The Cloud. This is true for the entire volume, and never more so than when the author touches on the topic of humility. I wonder, what is the connection between wisdom and humility? The Cloud’s guidance on humility is imminently practical and filled with pastoral care. It begins with the simple yet profound definition: “Humility is seeing yourself as you really are. It’s that simple.” And I concur, “Yes, it is that simple.”

Adapted from Learning Humility by Richard J. Foster. Copyright (c) 2022 by Richard J. Foster, LLC. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.

Lessons in Humility From an Ancient Letter

Enjoying this content?

Get this article and many more delivered straight to your inbox weekly.