Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Choosing the good.

Or the bad, as the case may be.

In Edmund Hill's 1991 translation of De Trinitate, Hill writes in his introduction to Books IX - XI, "the whole virtue of Augustine's structure of the psyche is that it is pregnant with dynamic possibilities; it is in constant movement, either in the right or the wrong direction" (261). I have heard variations on this before, but it always makes me pause. We are always moving either toward the good or toward the bad. No decision I make is neutral. This is not to say that out of all possible options in a given situation only one is toward the good, while the rest are toward the bad. But it does lend a certain gravity to my decisions. If I choose to eat that one remaining brownie for breakfast, is that moving me toward the good or toward the bad? If I pad my hours for work and claim that certain tasks took me longer than they actually did, am I building up my bank account at the expense of my soul?

Someone asked me a few days ago if anything has changed for me since beginning grad school and studying theology in a more comprehensive, systematic way. Absolutely, I told him -- and I'll be so bold as to state that if the way I see and interact with the world had not changed since coming here, that would raise serious questions about my suitability for this program. I told him things matter more than they did before: it really matters whether I go to Mass on Sunday; it really matters whether I take the Lord's name in vain; it really matters whether I am attentive, intelligent, and loving.

In the grand scheme of the universe, my life is barely a speck of time. I can be mindful of each moment, or I can let the hours slip away unnoticed. Now, I write this after a day of puttering and not doing much of anything, so I have to stress that I am not trying to portray myself as a perfectly mindful, focused human being. I am not even imperfectly mindful most of the time! But at the very least, I am generally aware that my life should not be so. I find it difficult to write about mindfulness and spirituality when those qualities are so often missing from my life. They are honored in the breach. Except I think the more I write about mindfulness, the more I remember to be mindful. The more I remember to focus and breathe, the less caught up I might get in frivolous distractions. I am all in favor of frivolity, as long as it remains garnish, not the main course. Sugar on the strawberries, sure. But not the strawberries themselves.

Of course, I have spent much of today avoiding eating the strawberries, so to speak. But God is here, and I am conscious of His presence. Have I chosen the good or the bad? A little of both. Here's praying that my consciousness grows and that my will becomes strong enough to live up to its demands.

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