October 22, 2020

Merton on Humility


Lord, You have taught us to love humility, but we have not learned. We have learned only to love the outward surface of it — the humility that makes a person charming and attractive. We sometimes pause to think about these qualities, and we often pretend that we possess them, and that we have gained them by “practicing humility.”

If we were really humble, we would know to what an extent we are liars!

Teach me to bear a humility which shows me, without ceasing, that I am a liar and a fraud and that, even though this is so, I have an obligation to strive after truth, to be as true as I can, even though I will inevitably find all my truth half poisoned with deceit. This is the terrible thing about humility: that it is never fully successful. If it were only possible to be completely humble on this earth. But no, that is the trouble: You, Lord, were humble. But our humility consists in being proud and knowing all about it, and being crushed by the unbearable weight of it, and to be able to do so little about it.

• Thomas Merton
Thoughts In Solitude


  1. Christiane says

    ” . . . our humility consists in being proud and knowing all about it, and being crushed by the unbearable weight of it, and to be able to do so little about it.”

    brings to mind ‘and they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced, and mourn for Him . . . ‘

  2. I look again & again
    I listen

    I send out words
    that come back to me
    like debris
    on a tide

    I set out
    to turn toward you

    Not knowing where you are,
    I only turn
    in the tight circle
    of my self

    I dead end
    in a silence
    that will not
    keep quiet

    but fills with
    thoughts & feelings
    that pull me back
    into places
    where I cannot find you

    • Beautiful.

      • What ChrisS said.

      • Ditto.

        • After reading OldProphet’s comment below, I went back and reviewed my comments in response to your post two days ago. I want to apologize for the possibility of having given the impression that I was casting an aspersion on you when I used the word “fanaticism” in my comments.

          Based on the tone and graciousness and subtlety, and humility, of everything you’ve ever posted and commented here at iMonk, it would be foolish to suspect you of anything like fanaticism. I ventured into foolishness by even using that word in response to your reasoned and articulate post. I apologize for that foolishness. If I went over the line in any other way, I apologize for that also.

          I also extend my apologies to anyone else whom I may have offended in comments that I’ve made here at iMonk. I’m sorry; I’ll try to be more careful in the future.

          • Your comments have never been ad hominem, Robert F. (or even ad feminam). Thank you for your kindness. I have no hard feelings toward any commenters — the exchange was useful, I think.

  3. What else is there to say, really? I’ve often thought a very similar thing. The worst part about being humbled is recognizing it; which leads to being proud of how humble I am and of course losing it. Self awareness is critical except in this case. This is where the mind of a child is so desirable. Great learning and critical self awareness be gone!

    • Yes I agree with your observation about self consciousness and humility. It reminds me of Brennan Manning’s story from his “Ragamuffin Gospel” of meeting little Elam Zook.

    • Interesting thought about “self awareness.” Some of the worst people to be around are those who aren’t self-aware. But I guess you’re right: “child-like” lack of self-awareness is good in terms of humility.

  4. A great follow up from the subject yesterday. It reminds me of 1Pe 2:23 “People shouted at him and made fun of him. But he didn’t do the same back to them. He suffered. But he didn’t say that bad things would happen to them. Instead, he trusted in the One who judges fairly.”

    Can WE do that? Apparently not completely.

  5. Bo Pentecost says

    I read IM often but never comment. The simple beauty of this passage is perfect. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Amen.

    Where I often struggle with humility is when it butts up against Eph 4:14. I’ve wasted many years of my life chasing new doctrines and ideas because “what if they are right because they are older/wiser/more Spiritfilled/more Biblical”.

    I’m still learning.

  7. OldProphet says

    There was not a spirit of humility displayed here on Imonk 2 days ago. I think a lot of the vitriol directed against Damaris was shameful.

    • That’s because it became all about needing to be “right” and “winning.” Jesus chose to “win” by letting himself get hung on a cross. That’s Jesus-shaped spirituality. Let’s face it, most of us Christians, even we “mature” ones, don’t understand Jesus’ concept of winning.

  8. One thing that has been impressed upon me for the last little while is the humility of God – Christ, yes, and also the whole Godhead. It leaves me pretty much speechless.


  9. I have nothing insightful to say about humility, and how difficult it is to embody this virtue. My very desire to say something profound that will be admired by others exhibits just how far I am from possessing humility.

    • Oddly, this is not the best forum for testing your humility because it calls for something different than personal, eye to eye, interaction. Unless you’re in a heated conversation requiring a prompt response it would be expected that you take the time, thought and editing to put your best foot forward. “I’ll post some slop on there that represents my most ordinary and mundane thoughts on this particular subject,” has probably never crossed anyone’s mind in posting here. It’s different than personal interaction. We actually have time to think through and formulate a more considered, meaningful, best thought on a subject, so why not? True humility will be found with the people we touch and see, not always here where we write mini books of a sort (that being even a sentence or two expounding on this or that) and sometimes hope for a good review. It has its place in uplifting our thinking but isn’t necessarily conducive to the exercise of humility. I could be wrong but that would be a first.

    • OldProphet says

      This comment is not because we’re simpatico, but because I am just like your comment says. 100% agree.

      • We’re not simpatico? I’ve been laboring under a delusion?

        And here I was planning to take a vacation at your place in the desert….never been to the desert before….

        • OldProphet says

          Sorry Robert. I said it wrong. I was trying to be cute and failed. I was trying to say that I agree with your statement because of how profound it was and nor just because I agree with you most of the time. Fail, fail, fail

          • Profound? Now you went and made me feel all proud….what did you go and do that for? Lol.

  10. That photo of the monastic choir is beautiful: emptiness, light, depth, intimacy. What monastery is it?

  11. This post is what Jesus-shaped spirituality is all about.

  12. Seriously, the lack of this attitude prevalent in the entire Church history (and especially now) is why my faith departed.

    • Christiane says

      Hi JOHN,
      if you cannot find a meaningful attitude (and practice) of Christ-like humility in the Western Church, check out the Fathers of the Orthodox Church on ‘humility’ . . . the Eastern Church keeps close to the Holy Spirit and to the fruit of the Spirit in its worship and you may find a home there or at least some folk who can encourage you towards Christ.

      we are very guilty of scandalizing one another and no where else but in the Western Christianity will you find so much ‘scape-goating’ of ‘those other sinners’ among fundamentalist-evangelicals . . . it’s almost as though we had forgotten that Our Lord was Himself made a scapegoat for the sins of all mankind . . . but that is forgotten among people whose pride in their own perfection is strengthened by pointing the finger at others while call themselves ‘Christian’ . . . it is hard to see this . . . it is hard for all of us, JOHN . . . I hope you find safe harbor again.

    • …And John I would encourage you to find your way past those people back to faith in the Lord who cherishes you. Part of mature faith is the loneliness, if that’s what it is, of solitude with Christ independent of anyone else. There is always room and need for other people but ultimately your faith is a sole venture. We each stand on our own two feet before him. It’s in us to do that,

      • I think you are right about loneliness being part of mature faith; I would say that it’s part of real faith, even where that faith is not fully mature. I think of Merton,himself, and Dorothy Day; both deeply immersed in prayer and faith, and both tremendously lonely in many many ways.

        Merton, in the Asian Journal quoted a Tibetan monk’s words to another Tibetan monk when both were fleeing the Chinese invasion of Tibet: “From now on, brother, everybody stands on his own two feet.” And I suppose that is also why I will remain Protestant, however much I might come to appreciate Catholicism, and even if I take up residence in the Roman Catholic Church.

  13. Had this discussion yesterday with a carpenter at work. We talked about pride the one thing I without fail always seems to rise up in me. I said it seems I have no control on it. I try and find I seem as if I go no where. He said to me maybe it is like an addiction and you’re at the first step of recognizing it. I know the steps, the 2nd is believing God can return me to sanity and the third is making a decision to turn my will and life over. Seems I can make this decision but in actuality I never actually do it. I am in search of how to be a humble servant as Christ. Changing the way I feel about humans. Animals get my grace right away in most cases

    One thing that has helped me lately is that God was the first to hope in Christ for this fallen world. This is His hope for my fallen nature as it is mine. From the beginning it is always this hope and somewhere in that is the power and the key for a love that seems to elude me so often. Selfishness is from the beginning here a way that we live if I had not this selfish nature I would have never feed at my mother’s breast. Sometimes I want to stop eating altogether because I am tired of things dying so I can live. It is my loophole here. For now I will go on the hour and half drive on an interstate where it is possible to see how almost everyone lives in their own world and work all day dwelling on the only one that has ever changed my life.