… from Old French umelite “humility, modesty, sweetness”
… from Latin humilitatem “lowness, small stature, insignificance; baseness, littleness of mind,“
… from humilis “lowly, humble,“ literally “on the ground,“
from humus “earth,“ from PIE root dhghem- “earth.“
So, to be humble is, literally, to be “down to earth.“
Humility is useful for many ends, but consistently in scripture it is invoked as the most useful tool to create peace among the very human members of the Body of Christ.
Contention comes from pride and lust (==friendship with the world), and the antidote is humility.
“From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your [bodily] members? … Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.“
And then immediately, “Speak not evil of one another, brethren … who art thou that judgest another?“
A little more on being double minded and purifying our hearts, and the processing of becoming lifted up in the Lord via affliction, mourning, and weeping.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?“
“During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn't change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil. … Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren't.“
Because the heroes write the stories, we don't often see their villainy, and anyway it's more useful to root out our own pride than to stoke our egos.
Nephi is the great hero of his books, and Laman and Lemuel are the villains. But of course it's more complex than this, and there are times when L/L are good, when they do the hard thing with aplomb, when their complaints seem very reasonable, and where Nephi is kind of a jerk.
2 Nephi 4 helps us reframe the rest of the two books, and see where Nephi's heart is hard, his anger hot, his will and commitment struggling.
We'll read part of his psalm, because it's great, and because it's the one part where Nephi identifies himself as the villain in the story. Then, when rereading the Nephis or any other scripture, see if we can identify lessons by seeing to the hearts of the villains, and then finding our own hearts within them. What would the Psalm of Laman look like? What would our own psalms look like?
“Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I known in whom I have trusted.“
… Nephi recounts the many ways the Lord has blessed him …
“O then, if I have seen so great things… why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy? Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul. Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions. O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? …May the gates of hell be continually shut before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley… O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh…”
And he also spoke this parable to certain persons who were confident that they were upright while despising everyone else: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, the one a Pharisee, the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee stood up straight and prayed these things about himself:
‘God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of mankind –rapacious, unjust, adulterous – or even like this tax-collector; I fast twice a week and tithe from everything whatsoever that I earn.‘
But the tax-collector, standing a good distance off, would not lift his eyes to heaven, but beat upon his breast, saying, ‘God, grant mercy to me, a sinner.‘
I tell you, the latter rather than the former went down to his house vindicated, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
One of the oldest Christian traditions is the prayer typically called, in English anyway, “The Jesus Prayer.“ There are a few different versions, and the specifics really don't matter much, but the idea is to address the listener (Jesus), ask for mercy, and acknowledge our own fallen state.
‘God, grant mercy to me, a sinner.‘
The trick is to repeat it enough to mean each part, and repeat it with the goal of getting closer to God by getting farther from our own pride. It's close to the simplest possible Christian meditation, next to the kyrie, “Lord,“ abstracted from “kyrie eleison”, “Lord, have mercy. (we know to whom we are talking, and if we are talking to him we are asking for mercy and if we need mercy it is only ever because we are inadequate on our own).
Another recommendation is to keep it social, not in that the prayer is communal, but in that the motivation behind humility all over the scriptures is to help us all just get along.
Think about the ways we might be exalting ourselves above others, seeing only our own strengths and others’ weaknesses, and how being delivered into mercy is a delivery into compassion. By loving others as much as ourselves, by seeing how we are debased and full of pride, so we can get over our silly quarrels, give mercy to those who are just as imperfect as ourselves, and release our silly pride into the freedom that comes from relying on God rather than the arm of flesh.