Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Autonomy and Freedom, Part 4

I suggested yesterday that we can become better trained at listening to God and discerning the thoughts that come from Him and the thoughts that do not. Theologically, Christians are confident in this possibility because the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts. We have a divine 'spiritual director'. Blessed Columba Marmion used to tell people that he would assist as a spiritual director for a time, but that his function was to listen and help corroborate what the Holy Spirit was saying to the individual. But, like a crutch, a spiritual director should be discarded when the individual can walk on his own.

What are the signs of spiritual maturity that allow us to be docile to the Holy Spirit's direction, wise about the things of the spirit? Monastic tradition stresses humility: constant awareness of God's presence and anticipation of death and judgment. This practice will help focus us on the fact that we have thoughts, and that these thoughts need to be exposed to the divine light for discernment.

We can also aid this discernment by formation in the Holy Spirit. Let me use an example. A guitar string between two chairs will vibrate, but not make a whole lot of noise. If you string it on the hollow wooden body of a guitar, however, the sound of the vibrations will be greatly amplified and sweetened by the resonance of the wood and its hollow interior. God's voice is like that string: often still and small, easily overlooked. By the imitation of the saints and the practice of the virtues, we form ourselves into a perfectly resonant shape, quick to pick up divine inspiration. We also hollow ourselves out. A misshapen guitar will produce strange sounds, and a guitar packed with mud will stifle them. Well formed, we will also become aware of sounds that 'don't fit'.

So meditation on the teaching of Scripture and the practice of virtue: these will make discernment much easier.

Secondly, I promised to wrap up some conclusions about autonomy, freedom, thoughts and the ego. This will require a somewhat lengthy post, so I will save it for tomorrow.

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
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Origen of Alexandria
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