Repeatedly, the Scriptures assure us that God will exalt the humble. St. James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and God will lift you up.” St. Peter says, “humble yourselves, therefore ... that God may lift you up in due time.” But if we “humble ourselves” in order to be lifted up, is that really humility at all? Is it not rather a subtle form of arrogance?
Perhaps I am imagining a difficulty where none exists, but I think this is a real danger. I doubt that we can be humble if our attention is fixed on the expectation of future exaltation. I would ask, “What does it mean to 'humble oneself'?” Is that something we can do, an action we can take? I think not. Isaiah says that the Lord “looks with favor” on “those who are humble and contrite in spirit.” And Jesus says, “I am gentle and humble in heart” [emphases added].
So I think that humility is an attitude, not a behavior; it is not an action, but a state of being. If so, then following a set of rules—St. Benedict's or anyone else's—is not in itself humility. What matters is where we focus our attention; it must not be focused on ourselves. Following the rule (or any other behavior) may be conducive to the development of a humble state of mind—or, better, of heart. In the same way, Centering Prayer is not in itself Contemplation, but may be conducive to the contemplative state. The author of The Cloud of Unknowing tells us that Contemplation can only be had by means of Grace. Can we say the same of humility? And can we not go further, and say that neither humility nor contemplation is Salvation, but both may be conducive to our receiving Salvation by Grace?