“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.” – C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian
Jeff and I arrive at our tiny cabin after dark, but the pines are still up. Throughout the night, I wake to watch their sparsely needled tops swaying over us. In the morning, they are no less mesmerizing. They wave without bending, their slender trunks shooting straight from dirt to sky. I feel my spine straighten, mirroring their posture. Shoulders back, daughter of Eve.
The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Everywhere I go I am / treated like royalty, which I am not. I thirst and / am given water. My eyes thirst and I am given / the white lilies on the black water.” I feel this on our trip to the Catskills, the sheer grace of the world before and under me. That our thirst would be quenched by its rains, our hunger for beauty satiated with tiered waterfalls— who are we, if not of noble blood?
In our fervor to maintain the greatness of God, Christians can diminish the dignity of our humanity in ways that aren’t as biblical as they seem. Self-deprecation comes naturally to me, and in my brokenness it often feels right to slouch in a corner, to make myself small under shame for fear of doing wrong. The enemy of my soul would have me believe that’s where I belong. At the window by the pines though, the Spirit speaks to me of a better way.
There, I think of the biblical poet who, in light of creation’s grandeur, asked God: What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him (Ps. 8:4)? It isn’t hard for me to understand his wonder. One look up on any clear night will fill me with a sense of humanity’s smallness and the surprise of God’s ongoing care. But it’s the follow-up to the question that comes to life for me now, maybe for the first time ever:
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet.
These verses have always struck an unexpected note for me, the way the psalm doesn’t continue to dig into our smallness in order to put us in our place. Reading “what is man?,” I half-expect the psalm to segue into the bad news-good news presentation of “You’re a nobody, but you are loved!” But the psalmist doesn’t take that route.
Here is our place in this world, granted by the Creator himself. We are created a little lower than heavenly beings. No, we are not God, but neither are we nobodies. We are rulers, crowned with glory and honor, given dominion over the earth.
This Edenic understanding of our humanity as expressed in our rule over creation is different from what we Americans usually associate with royalty. We think of celebrity (they’re famous!) or wealth (they’re rich!), high social standing or fantastical romances. What Psalm 8 unearths about our royal natures is far weightier than those things— calling, dignity, glory.
Oliver wrote she was treated like royalty although she isn’t. Perhaps it would be truer to say that we are treated like royalty because we are. Our first father and mother were rulers, blessed to cultivate and create in the world as representatives (images) of their Sovereign. Though fallen, we are still their children, and as such, kings and queens just by virtue of being human.
The pines showed me what it might look like for me to walk aware of the glory that crowns us. They stand tall with their own particular glory, fully arrayed with an honor that rightly belongs to them. They need not make themselves smaller or larger than what they are. They are unashamedly and fully themselves, and yet nothing about them is vain. A Korean-American actress recently said, “It’s an honor, just to be Asian,” and in the woods, the phrase comes back to me with a twist. It is an honor, I think, just to be human.
Counterintuitively, this stirs up a new kind of humility in me, one that doesn’t pummel me into submission, but lifts some of the weight off my drooping shoulders. It may be self-evident, but still worth remembering that we didn’t choose our existence. We didn’t cause ourselves to be, and yet here we are. We didn’t create this world we inhabit, and yet we have inherited it. What do you have that you did not receive?, the apostle Paul wrote. Our dominion as humanity is derivative. God crowns us, he has put creation under our feet. But that’s the thing, we really have been granted glory, honor, this world. I am born and look!, here is drink for my parched throat, beauty for my thirsty eyes.
This is cause for trembling too, I realize, our being sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Sin takes on new gravity when we consider that if we are rulers, our rebellion is not only treachery, but tyranny. We may have relinquished our ability to rightly govern this world under God, but as image bearers we still have the power to alter the course of history like no other created being. No matter what, we always exercise some form of dominion. And when we operate outside the Creator’s bounds, we rule as madmen, destroying the earth and harming those around us. Here I see that humility is not a shrinking back, but a taking up. It is a weighty thing to be human, to bear the responsibilities of one created for glory with others similarly crowned.
Here’s another thought— Jesus became man. We who are in Christ are co-heirs with him because the ruler of the universe took on flesh and became a servant unto death (Rom. 8:17). If we are rulers on this earth by birth, we become royalty in the everlasting kingdom by rebirth (1 Pet. 1-2). Our humanity is being redeemed and we worship one who is forever fully God and fully human. Can there be anything more incredible about our humanity than that? That Christ shared in it not to reject and despise it, but to restore it to us and us to it?
I am still feeling my way through what it means to live with this newfound sense of honor and dignity in my humanity. But I am beginning to see how it fuels awe-filled gratitude, strips away my compulsion to compare, girds me with a kind of quiet courage.
I do not need to walk with the projected confidence of someone trying to invent myself or command the room. I am not elbowing my way to my place, because it has already been granted to me. I seek to stand with the steadiness of heart my King had when he, knowing where he came from and where he was going, wrapped a towel around his waist and knelt to wash and dry feet.
Read the gospels and you’ll see how Jesus restored the dignity of all he encountered. How he defended the despised, how he touched and asked questions and listened. Something about the way he moved among us communicated that each broken person still bore his image, still was bestowed with the honor he granted them at creation. He is doing this for me now.
So, here I am. Truth I’ve long known in my head is making its way down into my heart and backbone. I stand as daughter of Eve, and I am content to take my place. Truly, it is an honor.