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On the Way   The Rt. Rev. Audrey Scanlan
greatness and humility


We are in John-the-Baptist-season again, otherwise known as Advent.

This week’s gospel lesson (Mark 1: 1-8) has gotten me thinking and praying in all sorts of directions-  and there’s one idea from a commentary by Gary Fisher that I can’t let go.  Mr. Fisher writes that John calls for two things in this lesson:  (1) repentance, and  (2) the recognition of Jesus’ greatness.

It’s the second item, that has me musing.  Fisher references John’s statement about being unworthy to untie the laces of Jesus’ sandals (Mk. 1: 7) which leads me to wondering about how we, today, recognize the greatness, the awesomeness of God and how we express humility- an appropriate response to God’s greatness.


I am reminded of the canticle (# 19 The Song of the Redeemed) from Morning Prayer, in which we pray, “…great deeds are they that you (God) have done, surpassing human understanding.” (BCP pg. 94)


And so.  How is it that we pay homage to these great deeds, give tribute and glory to God, and recognize our own place in relation to the Creator?


Recognizing the awesome deeds of God in Creation is easy.  It is the first place that many people go to when they are asked to talk about where they see God in the world: the beauty of sunsets and sunrises; the wonder of the intricacy of the plant and animal world; the majesty of mountains, canyons, the depth of the ocean, the vastness of space- all of these point to the work of a divine being whose sense of order, symmetry, and detail are to be marveled at.


But other than the slack jawed wonder that we (I) express when staring at a Super Moon or marveling at the intricacy of the orchid blossom in my kitchen window, what do we do? I commend a moment of prayer of thanksgiving.  That’s pretty simple.


How else- where else- do we find God’s greatness expressed in our small worlds?


I find it in the grace of the Holy Spirit wending his/her way in and out of conversations, relationships, difficult moments in my day, that sometimes take a surprising turn and become easier, more harmonious, or more easily reconciled than I had imagined.


I find it in the spirit of creativity when I am working with groups of people who trust each other enough to become vulnerable and spin wild ideas into productive projects.  God is in the creativity, and God supports the vulnerability in the group.


I find God’s awesome-ness in the courage I can summon to do difficult things.  In the steady pressure in the small of my back, urging me to keep at it, keep moving forward when the going gets tough.


I find God’s great deeds in the tenacity that we have as a people to be persistent, to voice concern, to work for justice.  There are those who wonder, in our chaotic world today, if God hasn’t abandoned us- and, I, in fact, find God in the hearts of those who, in spite of the chaos, continue to press on, holding peace and righteousness as an obtainable goal.  The people Israel wrote, again and again, in their psalms about the power and might and awe-someness of God.  Can we sing those psalms today with relevance?  If not, maybe we need to look more closely for God.


Where do you find the greatness of God?


And then, what is the response?  How do we express praise- and, what I extract as the appropriate response-  humility?


Praise is expressed both privately and corporately.  We can offer prayers of thanksgiving to God, sing, dance, and shout. (“Come, let us sing to the Lord/let us shout for joy to the Rock of our Salvation/Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving/and raise a loud shout to him with psalms-  The Venite, Psalm 95, vv. 1-2, BCP pg. 82).


Humility is something else.  Humility has both a horizontal and a vertical direction to it.  Horizontal humility has to do with how we interact with other people.  It’s not about groveling, but showing respect, believing that we do not have the answer to every problem all sewn up by ourselves.  Humility is about listening to another for understanding and learning.  It is about acknowledging that there may be more than one solution for each problem.  It is about honoring cultural differences, welcoming diversity, and engaging with each other with grace.


Vertical humility pays homage to God as the One who created us and who has the power to make all things new.  It is about spending time in prayer that is focused on receiving, not asking.  On listening, and on simply being in God’s presence with an attitude of reverence.  How many of us spend time engaged in the prayer-forms of “adoration” and “praise?”  From our Catechism: “Adoration is the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God’s presence.  We praise God, not to obtain anything, but because God’s presence draws praise from us.”  (BCP pg. 857)  These two types of prayer require a measure of humility, to even begin.



I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

                        (Mark 1:7b)


A good meditation for us, today.





3 thoughts on “greatness and humility”

  1. John Xanthopoulos says:

    Beautiful. Thanks.

  2. audrey scanlan says:

    thank you, John. I enjoy working out a little essay to post each Friday morning…

  3. Susan mackay says:

    Thank you!

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