Sunday, May 25, 2008

My Summer Vacation

Well, OK, Spring Vacation.

For the last month and a half or so, I've been giving Google Reader a rest. I haven't read any news feeds or blog posts, and I haven't posted much of anything here. So if you were wondering whether I had fallen off the face of the Internets, I guess the answer would be yes.

I'm not sure why I've unplugged to this degree ... maybe it's my debugging instinct kicking in, turning things off one at a time to try and find out which ones improve my life and which ones degrade it. Still working on that task.

Anyhow, I apologize for the somewhat narcissistic thread that I perceive to be woven through this blog. I prefer to talk less about my particular life and more about ideas and happenings. But thank you to those of you who have shown an interest in my personal thoughts and situation. It is a pleasant way to be loved.

And since I've started down that path, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to ask for a little more help. If you recall, when I posted my post about taking a break from church, I mentioned that one of the things I was looking for was a new mentor or group of mentors. Not that there weren't virtuous people at church, but the virtues they exhibited weren't really the ones I wanted to acquire. Recently, I made a list of virtues that I would like to learn, which looked about like this:

  • kindness

  • other-interest

  • courage

  • healthfulness

  • calm, rhythm (not-hurry)

  • skill (expertise)

I can think of several ways to go about pursuing these qualities, but I'm curious about where you have learned them. I know quite a few of you have experience with particular disciplines such as fasting, prayer and meditation, 'spiritual exercises' and the like. How have those formed you?

I expect habit formation to be an important part (maybe the entirety) of virtue formation, so if you find yourself (or maybe a friend of yours) to have some of these virtues, how did you (or they) develop them?

There also seems to be this conventional wisdom that virtue is best learned within a community of people seeking the same virtues. Well, the American transcendentalists might disagree, but for the sake of argument ... what communities have you experienced that contain an inordinately large number of people who exhibit these virtues?

Or if this more specific question is easier, try answering it instead: If you could recommend that I do one thing different today, what would it be?


paul maurice martin said...

"I expect habit formation to be an important part (maybe the entirety) of virtue formation."

A way of life that includes some space for things to develop on their own - to me, that seems like an important one.

EmJayDee said...

Things you might do:
Put a relevant banner on your mobile phone and a text screensaver on your computer. Some that I have used (I need to update I realise) are:
Prevenient grace (reminds that Godde is the actor ...)
Light shines (in Epiphany)
Making a difference (in Lent)

And for screensavers the best one I have ever had - in terms of promoting the not-busy-ness - was
unforced rhythms of grace (Matthew 11.28 the message)

Matthew said...

Thanks for your suggestions.

I can't believe I left "empathy" off my list. That needs to be on there too.

Kevin Jordan said...

as i'm traveling my path i've come to realize that building new habits (presumably good ones) requires repetition. so, currently, i'm trying to arrange my life and my time in ways that will present me with more opportunities to practice being the kind of person i want to be and in effect getting more repetitions. it sounds like a workout thing but it seems to be helping me because each time i come away from an experience where i've been able to practice these and other virtues it give the analytical side of me a chance to review and learn what was good about it and what i might want to remember for next time.

ulogtwo said...

While Benjamin Franklin is not remembered as our most virtuous fellow, he did leave us the best advise in the formation of good habits. His list included thirteen themes: Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquillity, Chastity and Humility.

He then worked on each theme for a week at at time. "Thus, in the first week, my great guard was to avoid every the least offense against Temperance, leaving the other virtues to their ordinary chance . . ."

More modern research indicates that it takes at least 21 (and closer to 28) days to inculcate a habit but the weekly rhythm does allow for some variety.

Beth said...

I think a good way to think of virtue is as an operative habit that makes the agent good. More specifically, if we think of the various appetites we have such as the concupiscible appetite for food, drink, and sex, we can also think of various perfections and imperfections of those appetites based on reason. So a perfect desire for food is called temperance, and an imperfect desire for food is called gluttony. These desires are perfected by acting reasonably or moderately--by not desiring too much or too little food. We develop these virtues with time and practice, and we know we are successful when our good "habit" has become a second nature, such that we act well without thinking about it.

Interestingly, you list only human virtues, also known as moral virtues. Aquinas defined virtue as "a good quality of mind by which we live rightly, which God works in us without us" (I-II, Q. 55, art. 4). This definition of virtue also includes the theological virtues which we do not acquire through human effort, but rather through grace. These are the infused virtues of faith, hope, and charity. They have God as their object, rather than food, or drink, or sex or any of the other goods we may desire.

Like the moral or human virtues, the theological virtues are operative habits that make the person good. Just like temperance is the virtue that allows us to choose food in moderation, faith is the virtue that allows us to accept what God has revealed of Himself of of the future life. Hope is the virtue that allows us to choose God as the source of our happiness. Love is the virtue that allows us to love God as an end in Himself, as the summum bonum.

Although the theological virtues are operative "habits," they cannot be developed by habituation or practice. Rather, they are gratuitous gifts from God which we can either accept or reject. I think that there are practices like going to church, receiving the sacraments, reading Scripture, and praying that make us more disposed to accept these virtues when they are offered by God, though none of these practices guarantee either (1) that God will offer us these virtues, or (2) that we will be able to accept.

I know you are taking a break from church, but I wonder if (1) you still accept that faith, hope and charity are virtues that should be valued and (2) if religious practice will help develop your ability to receive these virtues?