Welcome to Thankful Tuesday!

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross

One of my fundamental beliefs, rooted in my Christian faith, is that the primary (though not only) cause of suffering in the world is people. Something is fundamentally wrong with people on an ontological level. Contemporary accounts of this problem variously include the following: ignorance (to be solved through education), lack of resources (to be solved through redistribution), lack of self-esteem (to be solved through positive thinking), and others. I believe that education, redistribution, and positive thinking are all goods, but, in themselves, do not address our fundamental problem: we are each in possession of a disordered will.

The Christian project, the ethic of Jesus, is about reordering the will. A properly ordered will loves God and neighbor above self. But, of course, knowledge that all of our conflicts would be erased, all of the violence we do to others would be eliminated, if we would just love God and other people as much as we love ourselves does not, in the end, make it so. Instead, we must spend our lifetimes disciplining and forming ourselves (undergoing conversion). We must practice the Way of Jesus, training our wills to respond as he would rather than as we naturally want to.

Perhaps the biggest insight from this way of thinking is that my emotions and my desires are suspect. I could be angry or joyful or depressed or hurt, or I could want ice cream or to be a couch potato or to check Facebook 150 times per day, but that does not mean my emotions, or my desired activities, are legitimate. Or valuable. Or helpful.

I am not the best judge of myself.

* * *

Part of not being the arbiter of all things, of giving up being the judge of myself and my activity, means I need to nominate someone/something else. Lots of folks nominate their spouses or their therapists or their friends. I have chosen to nominate Christian Tradition (or, rather, chosen to submit to Tradition) which, one hopes, points back to God.

In the Christian Tradition (whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant), there are spiritual practices/disciples, certain behaviors that serve to guide the will toward virtue. These disciplines, infused with the Spirit of God, help people live out the rhythm of Grace. They are an essential counterpart to the rhythm of the Sacraments and the liturgical calendar.

I have long prayed the canonical hours (a form of the discipline of prayer), but I am just now wading into the others. I have begun lectio divina coupled with meditation as a first step toward a more contemplative life.

And so, today, for the broad Christian Tradition, and the narrower contemplative way, I am thankful.