While I was in temple earlier this week, celebrating the Jewish New Year, I was struck by the words of this prayer:
We are stiff-necked and stubborn; teach us to bend before you.
Convinced we’re right, entrenched in our own perspective, we resist Your call to repent.
Convinced we’re self-sufficient, entrenched in the illusion of control, we resist Your call to humility.
Convinced we can have it all, entrenched in the dream of mastering the world, we resist Your call to wake up.
Today You summon us out of our arrogance, out of rigidity, fantasy, shallowness, self-deception.
Teach us to bend our knees, to bow our heads before the Mystery; to realize our frailty and our finitude.
When I think about the big problems our species has created in the world—most notably the climate emergency and mass extinction, but also the entrenched separations and divisions wrought by income inequality, racial injustice, gender discrimination, xenophobia and all of our manufactured fear of the “other”—I can’t help but feel that much of it is summed up by our collective stiff-neckedness and stubbornness.
The illusion of control.
Our dream of having all the answers.
Our desire to master the world.
Humility is a powerful, subtle thing. We often misunderstand it, thinking it cannot coexist with boldness, determination, and an unyielding belief that we can create something better tomorrow than that which exists today. It can.
Humility is the recognition that we know a lot, but we don’t know it all.
That we can control many things but not every thing.
And that, just maybe, mastering the world isn’t the point at all.