16 January 2018

Orthodoxy before Orthopraxis


The 10th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

Modern ideas about inclusivity and "open minds" make us think we need to hear as many different points of view as possible on all topics, all the time. There's no reason for this to be true, but that's what we feel to be so. Someone might tell you you have a closed mind if you, to their face, dis their argument out of hand, (you'd also be rude). But some things in your life are already decided. You don't need to continue to read counter arguments over and over. A judge and jury have a closed mind at the end of a case - but that would be bad at the beginning. It is, however, not always the beginning.

Although many of the earlier prayers have said something like "we're this/make us this other thing", something about this one strikes deeper. A prayer to "purge our thoughts" or "purge our intellect". For a start, though, consider that "mind" qua "mind doesn't exist in this process. The mind (or the soul, really) is the thing that does all of these things: Estimation, Conscience, Intellect, Love, etc. We are used to thinking about "mind" as a brain-related and "love" as heart-related, and "praying" as something else. But in the classic understanding of the human person these are all functions of the same organ, if you will, the soul. In classical use, one will call them "powers of the soul". 

The Intellect is related to things learned; to the cognition and rational mental processes gained through external input rather than internal. Flashes of insight that come to you as a result of prayer do not appeal to the intellect. But the rap-like, drumming list of adverbs you learned in 6th grade and that still floats to the surface 40 years later is, in fact, a function of the Intellect (and Memory, in this case). The intellect deals with fact that you learn from others. You may meditate on them in another part of the soul, they may yield fruit in yet another (good fruit or bad), but the Intellect is the gateway and storehouse for these external stimuli. When we ask to be purged "all false beliefs and misunderstandings about human sexuality" these are things that come from outside. I didn't make up these errors, I learned them: I took them in from someone else. That can be a human teachers, television, the internet, my parents' models, my friends, books, magazines, etc. 

These are seeds only. 

They are the anti-seeds that come in competition with the Seeds of the Logos sown in the Parable of the Sower. These seeds are the Tares sown in among the wheat.

When bad thoughts come in, or disturbing ones, or anything unwanted, our first temptation is to thing about it. At which point, it's too late.

Have you ever stood on a beach at low tide, when the there are living bivalves everywhere? Shells of all sizes can "burp" and make clicking noises. They expel air and sand. They close up when the waves pull away as certainly as they open when the waves are there. And they can "click" that happens. If you stand on the beach though, you'll probably not catch the shell just as it clicks. You can run around and around following the clicks, trying to catch it happen.

That's what it's like to engage unwanted thoughts: you follow the clicking noises around the beach. Around and around it goes. And ends nowhere. The tide can come in and catch you, if you're not careful. When we engage these thoughts, when we run around and chase these sounds, they become part of us. When a wonky thought pops us, from a book, for example, if we chew on it, engage, debate with it, it's like a virus' DNA: it gets chewed up and merged with our thoughts. Before you know it, you can't tell if it's not-your-thought any more. Meditate on it, ruminate, and before you know it, you're thinking it, too.

To counter the clicking of the shells, we ask for other learnings from outside: for the Good Angels to flood our intellects with thoughts that are gracious, pure, lovely, honorable, and true. That can sound nearly invasive, but we don't say how the angels are to do this: we can get this through any available stimuli or external source. It can be by pointing us to the right books, by hearing a good sermon or podcast, by reading the right webpages.

We can change our minds - by thinking new thoughts: the right one. One reading of "Orthodoxy" is "right opinion".  Another is "right worship". Orthodoxy precedes Orthopraxy or right action. You need to have the right thoughts to make the right choices, to do the right things.

St Paul tells us, quæcumque sunt vera, quæcumque pudica, quæcumque justa, quæcumque sancta, quæcumque amabilia, quæcumque bonæ famæ, siqua virtus, siqua laus disciplinæ, hæc cogitate. Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things.

These things - coming from the outside - are like the good seed sown in the parable. We find new health growing in us and new support for our faith and our love of God, and our desire for Chastity.

We find ourselves thinking less about the things that bother us (fear, sex, drugs, acceptance) and more about things that are, in themselves, good. This, in turn, leads us to a more-generally sunny outlook on things of virtue, on things that fit in to this virtuous thought pattern.

It's not always the beginning. Sometimes we've made a decision - all counter arguments considered - and we don't need to keep the counter arguments around any more. It's not like trophy heads on the wall! We've settled the question: we are striving for purity. So, think right.