Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

40 Days: Humility


Welcome to 40 Days, a reflective journey for Eureka Street subscribers beginning Ash Wednesday and running through until Easter. Each week we’ll bring you a reflection on a theme, followed by some reading from our archives to help you reflect more deeply throughout the week. You might read them all at once, or sample one each day of Lent. Our first reflection is from Andrew Hamilton SJ, and explores the theme of ‘Humility’, and in particular what it means to be grounded.

Ash Wednesday is rich in associations for the most secular observer. The reference to ash is full of significance. In Australia, Ash Wednesday is associated most recently with disastrous bushfires, and carries also memories of other times of burning in wars and other disasters.

For Christians, it is also the beginning of Lent, a time of focus on Jesus’ life and message beginning with his public life and concluding with his death and rising. Its length of forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday echoes the forty years that the Jewish people spent wandering as they left slavery in Egypt and waited for entry into the Promised Land. That time of rescue and preparation was picked up in the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert fasting before beginning his public mission.  Both the forty years and the forty days were times of testing, of focus on what matters and of living it.


'To take time to reflect on what matters, to be down to earth, to ask ourselves what matters in our lives and in our public world, and to prize humility over either the airy fairy or the top of the head, can be attractive ideals.'


Hence, in Christian devotion Lent is a time of focus on what is involved in following Jesus and so on asking what matters and on commitment. It is a time of grounding, on awareness of the ground and ash on which we stand, of focus on what is important. That being grounded underlies the idea of humility, of being earthed with one’s bare feet on the soil.

Those rich Christian associations, of course, are part of our cultural inheritance, but certainly not necessarily part of our lives. Still, to take time to reflect on what matters, to be down to earth, to ask ourselves what matters in our lives and in our public world, and to prize humility over either the airy fairy or the top of the head, can be attractive ideals.

If they appeal to you, here are some articles from our archives that seem to exemplify that sense of groundedness. 



From dust to life

Simon Smart writes, ‘In contemplating our ‘dustiness’ we are also confronted with our failures and fallibility — not a popular message these days. We are more likely to dwell on the external, shaping forces that have limited us than any role we may have played in the gloomy drama of our lives.  But while we may recognise that we live in a world that is wonderful and broken at the same time, we ought also to acknowledge that human beings contribute substantially to that brokenness. We are both subject to reality and contributors to it. We are wounded and wounding.’

Read more here. 


Fatal firestorm’s distant witness

Bronwyn Lay writes, ‘Other countries have civil wars, despotic governments and lethal levels of class difference as their Achilles' heel. Ours is a tough landscape that, when ignited, is unforgiving, riding over us as if we never existed. It's that revelation of smallness, that humility before such indiscriminate power, that binds us. We share the same dirt and know that “there but for the grace of god go I”.’

Read more here. 


The spider-web fisherman

Arnold Zable writes, ‘As I contemplate these figures, I return to just one figure, Toganiu, on the shores of Kitava. I see his lithe body as it moves so easily over rainforest paths. I see him balanced on a tiny outrigger, positioning his kite over the ocean. I see the star-filled night as I travelled with him and his fellow boatmen to neighbouring islands. The men travel light, unburdened by heavy baggage. All they require are the clothes they are wearing, and the pandanus leaf wallets with betel nut and cash to acquire what is necessary. I think of islanders throughout the Pacific farewelling their sinking homelands, seeking asylum, and forced to rely on the dictates of others.’

Read more here. 


Social change based on the ‘view from below’

John Falzon writes, ‘Not far from Bethlehem is the city of Ramallah. Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti wrote a memoir, I Saw Ramallah, about his return visit there from exile... What I loved about this tender recollection is the poet's view from below, his unmistakable love for, and desire to be educated by, the oppressed people on the ground. At one stage he is asked: “What is the most beautiful thing you saw since you returned to the homeland?” He replies: “Your faces.”’

Read more here. 


Not owning but belonging to the land

Fatima Measham asks, ‘What if, rather than owning land, we could belong to it? What if, rather than belonging to nations and tribes, we could conceive an allegiance to something fundamentally inclusive and egalitarian? What would it change about the way we think of ourselves and our relationships to one another?’

Read more here. 


Humility, kindness lead to strength

Barry Gittins interviews social researcher and author Hugh Mackay, ‘We have had infrequent individuals such as Nelson Mandela, or Jimmy Carter, who have demonstrated great humility and self-knowledge. Yet, in too many cases, leadership is assumed to be about power rather than service, and power is antithetical to humility… Humility is the handmaiden to kindness. We practise both humility and kindness by responding to the needs we see around us, and valuing the dignity of those around us — especially of those who are in pain.’

Read more here. 




Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: (Unsplash)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, 40 Days, Lent, Humility



submit a comment

Similar Articles

40 Days: Community

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 20 February 2024

In an individualistic culture, Lent could be seen as an individual practice of self-betterment. Historically, however, it was a communal activity designed to make the community more attentive and aware of those around them and of their world.


On striving officiously to keep alive

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 22 February 2024

If the treatment of persons is unethical, it will inevitably lead to ethical corruption in the people and the institutions involved in administering it. It is almost impossible to participate in a policy based on such unethical premises without being complicit in it. If we do, we become blinded to what we owe one another by virtue of being human.