St Benedict’s first step on the ladder of humility, “that a man keep the fear of God always before his eyes and never forget it”, charges us to remember all that God has commanded and to live in this awareness. And for the effort to bear fruit, embedded into this venture has to be the certain knowledge that through some weakness—some imperfection, some incompletion—of body or character, at times we are going to fail, to trip, and to fall into the ditch.
“The ladder erected is our life on earth”. We must begin where we are, wherever that is; in our work of climbing into the likeness of Jesus we get to work from the situation at hand. Are we at this moment enjoying the grace of youth or health or being set up in the world? or the grace of infirmities of one kind or another? That is the context wherein our work of humility is carried out.
Julian’s Revelations were given her while in a condition of the most serious infirmity and bodily helplessness. If that is more our case, then that is where we must begin. We must work from the situation in which, at this moment, we actually find ourselves rather than the imagined situation we might wish to be in.
As self-evident as all this seems to be, however, there are those who go through their lives unable to believe either that they will fall, or that they must start from where they actually are (versus where they virtually are) with weeping and gnashing of teeth consequently following.
The first beginning of the ascent of humility is to know and own where we are, and to set our foot from that place. We must travel with the certain knowledge that this failing and falling does not begin to compass the entire state of our souls—the sweet eye of mercy never fails nor forsakes us. Jesus is there with us to fetch us out of the ditch—to heave us out before him—and set us again confidently on the way of love.