So begins Chapter 8 of Pathways to Serenity, one of your course resources. The chapter goes on to outline actions that are generally regarded as good, and others that are usually harmful. Reflecting on this chapter would be a help to better understanding how loving actions are understood in Christian spirituality.
Slide 11 of your slide show resource also has a helpful illustration. There you will find an image concept showing how behavior is the outcome of perception, consideration, feeling and decision. In our previous sessions, we have discussed how each of these activities of consciousness needs to be properly formed. When and if that happens, then we can expect to see loving actions happening as a matter of course.
"Action follows state of being" is another way to summarize the approach we've taken in this course. While running the risk of articulating a question-begging fallacy, I think it's nonetheless correct to say that loving actions are what we observe in people who have had their consciousness formed in the manner we've been describing in previous chapters. Loving actions are what loving beings do "naturally" and even habitually, but the catch, here, is to recognize that these actions are not always spectacular or earth-shaking. More often than not, they fall below the attentional radar of people who aren't especially experienced in the ways of the Spirit. A few examples:
- faithfully doing one's duties without complaining
- resisting the desire to indulge in gossip -- changing the topic instead
- affirming what you appreciate about others' behavior
- giving someone your attention when they speak to you
- noticing your surroundings and in your heart, giving thanks for the gifts in your life
- speaking the truth in love in simple, ordinary things
You get the idea, I'm sure. As St. Theresa of Lisieux modeled and taught so beautifully, it's in the little things of life that love is to be expressed, and there are hundreds of opportunities to do so each day. One can learn the appropriate behaviors and just try to "do" them, but the appropriate actions seem to come more easily when one's consciousness has been formed in the ways of love. Living actively with the question of how to love in this moment is also a great help. When opportunities to pursue the traditional "works of mercy come along," they are then recognized and we can pursue them.
Love is as love does
One of my favorite movie lines is Forest Gump's "Stupid is as stupid does." This points up the reciprocal relationship between being and action. As we've noted, "action follows state of being," and that's so true; but Forest reminds us that our state of being is also reinforced by our actions.
Bernard Lonergan, whose approach to human spiritual consciousness has informed this course, noted that human decision-making and action is the most intense and formative exercise of our spirit. Mentally and imaginatively indulging an immoral fantasy is formative, to some degree, but acting it out is much more profoundly so. It's as though behavior reinforces the line of perception, consideration, belief, feeling and decision-making that led to the action, strengthening this pattern in the mind and even, through time, in the neural networks in the brain. That's why changing certain patterns of behavior can be so difficult -- especially those that have become addictions.
Just as "stupid is as stupid does" and "sinners are as sinners do," however, so it is with love. "Lovers are as lovers do," and loving action reinforces patterns of loving perception, thinking, feeling and decision-making. We constitute ourselves as persons through our actions more than anything else; we become lovers by loving. By "walking the walk," we give evidence of the faith that we profess.
Reflection and Discussion
1. What questions or comments has this session awoken in you?
2. How do you experience the connection between loving attitudes and action?
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