Thursday, March 29, 2012

Discernment of Heroes - Week 6



[Sorry this is late; life has suddenly become quite busy.] This week we have three remaining questions derived from Matt Bird's insights into what makes characters work.

How might their first actions foreshadow their actions for the rest of the script? As personal discernment is concerned, there are two directions we can take this. First, how do your actions reveal who you are? That's a big question, but one worth asking. Consider thinking through a generic day: what do you do? How do you do it? What does this reveal about your priorities? Your approach? Likewise, consider also an actual day (say, yesterday). Sometimes our sense of how we usually conduct ourselves does not accord with very many actual days. Our actions can reveal a great deal about our moral choices. But I would add one note of caution here: habits can be very confusing. Aristotle says virtue is a habit, so I certainly don't want to dismiss its significance. But often we have grown up with certain habits, or acquired them unintentionally. These habits may be virtuous or vicious, but I think often they are of greater interest for the long-term impact they have on us, rather than what they tell us about our own moral decisions. If one grows up going to church every Sunday morning, this is a good thing and beneficial, but one ought not take too much credit for a practice bequeathed by parents. On the other hand, one who grew up spending weekends doing other things may have trouble consistently remembering to make time for church. The second person would do well to make such time, but ought not infer that his struggle, in comparison to the non-struggle of the person who attends church out of habit. In other words, I think our conscious efforts to shape our habits (which are, admittedly, powerful things) are at least as telling as the habits themselves.

Second, if we consider all of our lives a grand story written by the Master Storyteller, what do the events of our past suggest about our future? This has been a kind of recurring theme for us, as we asked about age, profession, and hobbies in the first week, and considered past secrets last week. The story of the nation of the Israelite nation, God's chosen people, constitutes part of sacred history; but with the incarnation of Christ and the preaching of the Gospel to all nations, with the baptism of believers into the priesthood, prophetic office, and kingship of Christ, all our lives are caught up into sacred history. Thus, just as the events of the Israelite past and the personal lives of the ancient prophets were signs of God at work among His people, so too the events of your life have been telling a spiritual story.

Moral center: Matt Bird asks, "What is the thing they just won’t do? This is an especially good way to define a villain." But it is also a good question to ask of ourselves. Hopefully there are lots of things we won't do (serial killing, grand theft auto, etc., etc.). The key to making the question meaningful is placing it in the right context. What won't I do at work to get ahead? What behaviors - generally accepted by my peers - are beyond the pale for me? For the Christian, our moral center should be God's law. Thus, examining our own moral center should prompt two stages of discernment: (1) What is my own moral center? (2) What do I need to do to better conform it to God's law?

You philosophy: Bird describes this as "an actual line of dialogue that sums up how they think about the world. Every character has a philosophy, whether they know it or not." This is similar, in many ways, to the one-line description we considered in our first week: some statements are more substantial than others. There are two ways to go about discovering your philosophic tag line. You could listen to yourself careful (a task that, in itself, takes some doing) and keep an open ear for something good. But you might also consider thinking about what you'd like your philosophy or worldview to be. If you're not expressing that now and again, why not?

And here, dear friends, I shall leave you, like Virgil leaving Dante. I have pushed this little thought experiment as far as I can take it. I now entrust you to the Holy Week liturgies which begin in a few days with Palm Sunday. Hopefully these meditations have helped you learn just a bit more about who you are and the hero God calls you to be. May the grace of Holy Week and Easter transform these natural insights into supernatural wisdom.
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