At first humility and apple sauce don’t look like they have much in common, but I think they do. A couple of days ago I helped pick apples that we will use for apple sauce. The apples were from an old apple tree and we mostly picked them up off the ground. The next day I realized, or my legs told me in no uncertain terms, that I don’t usually do so much bending. So as I walk around rather tenderly I am reminded of what goes into our homemade applesauce. Normally when we eat apple sauce or any other processed food we simply open a can, jar or package without thinking how it got to our plate except to remember our trip through the grocery store.
On the other hand when we eat apple sauce here at the monastery we know where it comes from and that is part of humility. Anyone who has ever read the Rule or any Benedictine spirituality knows that humility is a big topic. Benedict delineates 12 separate steps on the “ladder” of humility. It is a leit motif in the Rule, in the background as the unifying thread throughout the many practical provisions of everyday life.
Humility is often explained in abstract terms, as a goal or ideal, a personal quality. But it may be helpful to explore what humility may look like in the everyday life of a monastery or anyone’s everyday life. For most of us humility is the very steep ladder that we don’t often feel we are ascending either quickly or well, but humility is also a characteristic that permeates our way of life. Humility is what reminds us we are not in control, that we are vulnerable and dependent. Humility is what allows us to be open, grateful, to receive everything as gift.
Humility comes from the root word humus, or earth. When we are humble we are reminded not of our exalted status but of our lowliness, our rootedness, that we were created from the earth. Making apple sauce helps bring us to that state of gratitude, not clinging and entitled to everything we can grasp, but standing with hands open to the gifts of God and the earth.
The humility of apple sauce connects us with the reality that our food does not magically appear in a package from an antiseptic grocery store. We don’t automatically get apple sauce just because we want it, we will get apple sauce if the gifts of God and our hard work come together in a serendipitous union. If the rains don’t come, if the bugs and the blight do come, there won’t be apples. If people aren’t willing to risk sore legs to pick the apples, if others don’t take time out of their busy lives to sort, cut, cook and prepare the apples, if others don’t give of themselves in service to set it out at the meal, then there will be no apple sauce.
There is no entitlement, there is presumption that there will always be homemade apple sauce on the table, it is a gift. It is a gift of many peoples labor, a gift of God who holds the harvest, it is a gift that we can never take for granted. For Benedict humility is about being filled with God rather than ourselves. The final summit of humility is coming to a place where love casts out the fear. At this summit of humility love will banish the fear that has fed our illusion that we are the center of the universe. At the top of the ladder of humility we will no longer be caught in our sense of arrogant entitlement. When we are humble we will be thankful for all the gifts that fill and sustain our every moment. In humility we can give thanks for the smallest gifts, for homemade applesauce, because we know that the smallest gifts are very great indeed.