Lent and Redeeming Humiliation

“The spiritual journey is not a career or a success story. It is a series of small humiliations of the false self that become more and more profound. These make room inside us for the Holy Spirit to come and heal. What prevents us from being available to God is gradually evacuated [as] we keep getting closer and closer to our Center.” Father Thomas Keating

It has been a time of mincing words and quieting my mind. And ya’ll know I am not one for mincing. 

It has been a time of increased restraint, stronger boundaries, whispered prayers and watching and waiting. It’s been a bit liminal. It’s sometimes a little lonely. It’s definitely lenten.


Around us, we see the male birds fluffing their feathers, dancing in the spotlight only the sun and the leaves make possible. We can predict the program, the airs, the game. That’s all become normal in these parts–where the poor and the rich live alongside, the successful and the precarious walk the same street.

But in this time of little withdrawals, I’ve grown more tender, more thankful, and more attentive to the men on their knees. They’re not perfect but they’re not done and they know it. The ones elevating their coworkers or their partners. The ones quick to give the floor or admit their own mistakes. The men who helped raise me, not the least of which was my father; the ones in my schools, the ones who were our models our first decade of marriage, and the ones in our community today. The one I married and the ones that confide in him and he with them. They might be the exception in my recent experiences with men, but that is even more to their credit.


These men have done some work. They have found some room around them to cozy up with humility or humiliation. Their self is not informed by their work hours, their last word, their salary, their upbringing or their title. They’ve endured, or are enduring, the ripping, the mocking, if even from their own inner critic. They know loss of false self attachments with its certainties and recognition and luxury. They’ve traded some toxic masculinity for some Jesus-like humanity, and judging from my 4th grade son’s experiences at recess, that is never an easy negotiation. They’ve become more feminine in some ways. More fluid in some ways. More themselves. Closer to the whole or the Center as Father Keating described. There are parts of them that have died and counted things that some would call gains as losses for the sake of Christ.

The idea of humiliation is difficult for this feminist. Too often humility, suffering, submission, surrender–these are used against my gender from the pulpit and at the party to dismiss a girl’s voice, embodiment, empowerment, and God-bearing-image. But the corruption of this idea cannot end our access to it. Humiliation is a suffering that joins us with the life of Jesus; it is not a permission slip for the abuse and deprivation of humankind by humankind. It can be used to describe suffering that signals a bridge between a false understanding of one’s self and a more integrated true self.* Humiliation can be a holy purging–a lenten hunger.


Some of the best women I know have gone through suffering that has included humiliation. I myself have failed in many ways to impact situations I had hoped to impact, to help people I had hoped to help, to follow through on intentions–each carrying the sting of humiliation–the self-doubt and stripping.

In these marathons of my friends and I, there has been no career or success story around the corner but for the victories over the very need for a career or success story. I’ve witnessed women grow up and away from the need for consensus, the need for another, the need to win, the need to be angry, the need for security and the need to manage people’s expectations. It has been a Resurrection. The losses and the humiliation trained our eyes to tenderly recognize a risen, unlikely Hope. We join the first believers to see Jesus: the mourning women.

The darnedest things happen when we step back a little and observe. I’ve felt the angsty shame but I’ve also sensed the invitation to be quieter, to be less engaged. I’ve focused more attention on the men who have helped instead of the men who are dead-set on harming. I’ve seen the beauty in the abstinence, the satisfaction of the dulling of the false self nerves–the ones that make us defensive and fragile.

I’ve noticed there’s new life finding a way and the work keeps going and the third day will come, not by my own might. I’ve enjoyed the possibility for meaning in the suffering, profundity in those small humiliations.

There’s meaning in your suffering and profound space in the small humiliations. You are not alone. 



Isaiah 43:19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.


Phil. 3:4b Paul’s Story of Death If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;as to zeal,  a persecutor of the church;  as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.


* Ruth Haley Barton, S7:W5, Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership Podcast – The opening quote and the connection of humiliation and false self were helpfully unpacked by this episode of a podcast I highly recommend. It is 30 minutes or less and she is wise.


3 thoughts on “Lent and Redeeming Humiliation

  1. I love language and yet this blog is the first time I ever really contemplated the web of connection between the word humility, and the word humiliation. It really helped me understand and take to heart the old way the language was used which I always bumped into and struggled with up until now, right now. Thank you

    • Thanks Barbara. I’ve been continuing to think about this relationship too. When things happen that hurt my ego or diminish me in unexpected ways, I’m challenged to go in and look at the humiliation for truth before I (re)act out. It’s slow and precarious work, with boundaries and self-advocacy also being important. Grace!

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