(originally published March 24, 2011)
My little garden awaits my ministrations and I do find a certain peace in pulling weeds and coaxing plants to grow, and am generally just very happy to feel the dirt on my hands as the spring days lengthen and the soil warms up. There is joy to be found in gardening for some us, and there is humility to be found as well. For me, at least, there is as much failure as success in making my garden grow.
The word humility has its roots (pun intended) in the Latin humus, meaning earth and we use the word “humus” of course to denote the richest, darkest soil. Humus is the most desirable dirt found in any garden. In turn humus is related to the Latin word for “man”, homo, reminding me of the words we hear on Ash Wednesday: Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth. I suspect that God’s hope for each of us is that we’re the richest kind of dust though – that God is calling us to be humus.
Humility is a tricky concept. Too much of it and we’re dog paddling through the waters of false modesty. Too little and we fail to acknowledge our limitations or fully appreciate the skills of others. Humility taken to unnatural lengths makes us feel unworthy of God’s love, while a sincere embrace of our humility allows for God’s own wide embrace of us in all our failings.
The 13th century text attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, Humbly I adore thee, is found in The Hymnal 1982 at 314. Aquinas wrote about the “virtue of humility” in other places, even if the Latin’s first line in this particular text, Adoro te devote, doesn’t actually include the word for “humbly”. The 19thcentury English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins made his own translation of Aquinas’ words, and conveyed a sense of humility in its most sincere form without using the word “humbly”.
Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at Thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
The Gregorian chant Adoro te devote is sung here by monks of the Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon.
Perhaps my plants would grow better if I sang this while working in the garden?