The First Step of the ladder:
10The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes and never forgets it...12While he guards himself at every moment from sins and vices of thought or tongue, of hand or foot, of self-will or bodily desire, 13let him recall that he is always seen by God in heaven, that his actions everywhere are in God's sight and are reported by angels every hour.Yikes! The angels are reporting on us every hour? That's not a very comforting thought.
Still, I think we can see what Benedict is getting at. I think the issue here goes to integrity, holding oneself accountable across the public and private spheres of life. We all know that humans behave abysmally when we are are in anonymous situations. Humility demands situational consistency, even when we are alone.
The Second and Third Steps of the ladder:
31The second step of humility is that a man loves not his own will nor takes pleasures in the satisfaction of his desires; 32rather he shall imitate by his actions that saying of the Lord: "I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me...34The third step of humility is that a man submits to his superior in all obedience for the love of God, imitating the Lord of whom the Apostle says: "He became obedient even to death."As noted earlier in the Rule, for Benedict obedience and submission are key features of humility. In our discussions, I framed this as an issue of being responsive to the needs of others.
The Fourth Step of the ladder:
35The fourth step of humility is that in this obedience under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions, his heart quietly embraces suffering 36and endures it without weakening or seeking escape. For the Scripture has it: "Anyone who perseveres to the end will be saved."...42In truth, those who are patient amid hardship and unjust treatment are fulfilling the Lord's command: "When struck on one cheek, they turn the other; when deprived of their coat, they offer their cloak also; when pressed into service for one mile, they go two."Of interest to me here is how Benedict connects patience in the face of unjust treatment with the Sermon on the Mount.
The Fifth Step of the ladder:
44The fifth step of humility is that a man does not conceal from his abbot any sinful thoughts entering his heart, or any wrongs committed in secret, but rather confesses them humbly.I'm sure alarm bells are going off about how abusive this might be, but transparency, authenticity and confession do seem critical in cultivating humility or, at the very least, an honest self-accounting. How else to puncture self-illusions?
The Sixth Step:
49The sixth step of humility is that a monk is content with the lowest and most menial treatment, and regards himself a poor and worthless workman in whatever task he is given.Considering yourself "worthless" is tough to swallow. But there is something about being willing and seeking out "the last place."
I remember back in my ACU theatre days when we did dinner theatres, actors serving dinner in costume before the show. Clean up after the show was, as you might expect, a big ordeal. And the rule was this: The leading male role cleaned the men's restroom and the leading female role cleaned the women's bathroom. Those in the "highest place" were given the dirtiest, lowest job. The sensibility here was very Benedictine. Growing toward humility, however, seems to be more about being willing to seek out these jobs. Volunteering to clean the bathroom.
Incidentally, I actually pondered doing something like this in my Department at school. My idea was to have faculty and students sign up and take turns cleaning the bathroom in our building. The restroom is, of course, cleaned by a cleaning person in the evenings. But I wanted to take this job over, to do it ourselves. I thought it would be good for the students to see their faculty cleaning the toilet. And for students to participate alongside as well. As you can imagine, this idea didn't go over well. But I still think it's a good idea.
The Seventh Step:
51The seventh step of humility is that a man not only admits with his tongue but is also convinced in his heart that he is inferior to all and of less value...This one of those places in The Rule where you remember that it is a medieval monastic document, even if it was more humane and less strict than its predecessors. Still, the issue here seems to be about being humble in heart and not just in speech. A lot of people pretend, verbally, to be humble. Benedict wants humility to go deep.
The Eighth Step:
55The eighth step of humility is that a monk does only what is endorsed by the common rule of the monastery and the example set by his superiors.Humility is about participating in the common life of others. Humility is a communal discipline, about learning to follow the rules just like everyone else. Be a team player.
The Ninth Step:
56The ninth step of humility is that a monk controls his tongue and remains silent, not speaking unless asked a question.People who are full of themselves do like to hear themselves talk. But we are not as smart or as interesting as we would like to believe. So perhaps we should have less talking and more listening. Listening to others is an expression of humility. Listening a form of hospitality and making room.
The Tenth and Eleventh Steps:
59The tenth step of humility is that he is not given to ready laughter...60The eleventh step of humility is that monk speaks gently and without laughter, seriously and with becoming modesty, briefly and reasonably, but without raising his voice, 61as it is written: "A wise man is known by his few words."The comments about laughter here are difficult. But the general concern, however, seems to be with a lack of seriousness. Frivolity. The concern might also be about histrionics, people who dramatically draw attention to themselves.
The Twelfth Step:
62The twelfth step of humility is that a monk always manifest humility in bearing no less than in his heart, so that it is evident 63at the Work of God, in oratory, the monastery or the garden, on a journey or in the field, or anywhere else...The goal is to so internalize a humble spirit that finds expression no matter where we are or who we are with.
And at the conclusion of all the Steps, the vision of the final product:
67Now, therefore, after ascending all these steps of humility, the monk will quickly arrive at the perfect love of God which casts out fear. 68Through this love, all that he once performed with dread, he will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit 69no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue.It's an interesting conclusion, suggesting that if love and joy aren't the motives in all this true humility and spiritual maturity cannot be achieved. If morbidity and a fear of punishment are driving the process we aren't going to be truly humble.
Love and joy must infuse all. Lose sight of that and you'll misunderstand the enterprise, every step of the way.