Men who take on the Exodus 90 challenge are urged to make study a central part of their lives starting at “day 91.” This is very fitting—because Exodus 90, if done rightly, is humbling. Through the experience of discomfort in ascetical practices, struggling to be fervent in prayer, and the challenges associated with fraternity, men who do Exodus 90 are confronted with their weaknesses in a very real and powerful way. In the face of their weaknesses, they are humbled and come to learn of their need to depend upon and learn from God in all things. Because Exodus facilitates the development of humility in this way, it can be a worthy training ground for the life of the mind.
You might be wondering: “What does humility have to do with study?” My answer: everything. Possessing the virtue of humility is essential for the student who wishes to obtain the true prize of study, which is not a 4.0 GPA or high-paying job, but rather knowledge of the Truth.
The root of the word humility comes from the Latin word humus, which means “earth.” This helps make sense of why humility is required of any true student. The word “earth”, by drawing our minds to physical things (dirt, rocks, etc.) which are so obviously real to us, denotes reality. Thus, it reminds us of what it is that we seek through study. We are also reminded of one who is, to use a cliché, “down to earth” (i.e., in touch with reality), which paradoxically is a prerequisite for discovering it. Simply by understanding the etymology of the word humility, we can clean the true goal of study, and the disposition necessary for accomplishing that goal.
While some people have a temperament that disposes them toward a sort of “natural” humility, any true student must intentionally humble himself. In other words, he must be willing to listen to and learn from someone wiser than he, namely, a teacher. One of my high school teachers, whom I have quoted in previous articles, made this point perfectly through one of his typically witty aphorisms: “In you want to understand, you must first stand under.” The man of understanding, in other words, is rarely (if ever) self-taught; he stands under and looks up to his teacher, that he may become wise and understanding.
Most importantly, the man of understanding stands under and looks up to the one, true Teacher, who is God (Mt 23:8). Jesus says to us: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves” (Mt 11:29, emphasis added). The only way to learn from Christ, is by becoming “meek and humble of heart”, as He is. This is the necessary first step for becoming true disciples (students) of Truth in our studies as well. And this can only happen by His grace. So let’s start by praying this prayer: “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.” Oh, and just saying, do Exodus 90.