(This site’s author, CJS Hayward, on Times Square in 2008)
- Read “The Angelic Letters,” then:
- Read “Doxology,” then:
- Keep exploring the labyrinth… for as long as you want.
Curl up with a good book from here:
Psst! Want me to pick one for you?
They’re different almost every time.
At the risk of obvious and extreme irony:
A lot of things that people run after are things that won’t make you happy even if you get everything you are trying for.
Rule #1: Money doesn’t make you happy.
Rule #2: Beauty doesn’t make you happy.
Rule #3: Smarts don’t make you happy.
Rule #4: Fame doesn’t make you happy.
(Lots of other rules left out.)
Rule ∞: If you know that the grass will always be greener on the other side of the fence, you are in a position to really and truly profit, and get things greater than mere money could ever amount to.
One author made the rather startling claim that the chief advantage of riches is that they do not make you happy. Perhaps people who struggle to make ends meet will be happier to genuinely have enough wealth, but it is easy to succumb to the illusion of, “If only I had enough money, that would make me happy.” Add enough wealth, and the pain may still be there but the illusion is gone. When you have acquired practically everything you want, both luxury and status symbol, that illusion can no longer be taken seriously. If you are poor, you can more easily miss the point that you need something more than money. Rich and poor alike need to dig deeper: but the rich more easily see through that illusion for what it is, and know that it is nothing more than a useless illusion.
The rich person stands in the position of seeing through a different, but one very similar: the illusion of talent as any sort of universal cure to the problems of human life. It doesn’t make a person better, or kinder, or more loving as a human being.
We need something much bigger than talent can pull off. And it is not just one writer who doesn’t have enough talent for that.
We need, in short, humility. Or at least I need more humility.
So far as can be concerned, the single biggest treasure of virtue that is mention in the Philokalia is humility. Humility is a body all working together well; humility is scales falling from eyes. It is also notorious to pin it down, although the humblest I’ve known have done perfectly without pinning such things down. Here is one of the responses to one horrid poem, “Invictus;” and it speaks even having cut back at an urge to write a torrent of words about how lovely humility is, how useful, how noble, how beautiful, how secure!
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
I wish to say more than how learning at Toastmasters is helping me grow and live giving me something as a human being that master’s degrees from leading institutions did not, and only humility has the key to open that treasure chest. However, there is a time to write a book, a time to write an article, and a time to write a social media post.
The language and meter are imitated with some imperfection:
“Invictus,” sent back for revisions and extended some degree of Professional Courtesy
Out of the pitch black of my sin and vice,
Chosen only of my own free will,
I thank the God beyond all knowing
For my yet still fighting soul.
In the cunning net of His Providence,
I have spurned kindnesses for my good,
Gifts I have fought as chance left me,
Bloodied, but more deeply bowed:
Beyond this life of pleasure and pain,
Lie the Gates of Heaven and Hell,
Battered I still make my choice,
Seeking neither to bolt nor bar,
From inside, the gates of Hell.
Narrow is the path and strait the gate:
The entrance to Glory beyond,
All trials and tests named in the scroll,
Thy Grace my wounds have bound with salve.
I thank the ranks of men made gods,
Who cheer me on to join their choir,
Thou blessest me beyond any fate,
That I could ever know to ask.
Thy Glory is to transfigure me,
To Live, Thou Thyself:
I am the Master of my Fate!
I am the Captain of my Soul!
Now for a question on some reader’s minds: “Do you consider yourself humble?”
I would answer as follows:
About two and a half millenia years ago, in Greece, a man was asked, ‘Do you consider yourself wise (Greek sophos, σοφος)? His answer was astute, and he called himself a lover of wisdom (Greek σοφοσοφοια, philosopher). From that humility comes the term “philosophy,” a term that has remained in continuous use for millennia, and passed from one language to another. “Philosophy” in colloquial English can mean an opinion about cookery, but the Department of Philosophy is one of the more prestigious ones. And if it is possible to call yourself a “lover of philosophy,” perhaps one might claim to be a “seeker of humility.”
Now if you want to know if I am humble, and you don’t want to take my word that I am very proud, read the reviews for The Seraphinians: “Blessed Seraphim Rose” and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts, including one review that quotes an author bio boasting of awards and achievements in math and other fields.
Every word they say about my pride is true, or worse.
Moses said he was humble; for that matter Christ himself said he was meek and humble. Be that as it may, appropriately doing such things are above my pay grade. However, there is another shoe to drop.
C.S. Lewis said, “To get anywhere near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of water to a man in a desert.”
Proud as I am, I have just tasted humility, and I want more. From that one taste, I have a thirst that will never be slaked, and all counts I’ve read, at least some monastic saints were ever changing from joy to joy Monks are guided to drink a torrent of humility that will never slake their thirst. They yearn to drink dishonor as if it were honor (that’s well above my current pay grade). It’s a bit like Scotch:
- One is a good start.
- Two is just about perrr-fect.
- Three is not nearly half enough!
But monasticism is meant to be, and for many people is, a powerful foretaste of Paradise.
Maybe someday I’ll be humble about the words I choose when talking to people.