Transformation In Christ, by Dietrich Von Hildebrand (Chapters 2 through 6):
After chapter one on Readiness to Change Dietrich dives into house cleaning: Contrition, Self-knowledge, True Consciousness, True Simplicity, and Recollection and Contemplation! It has been about a month for me to traverse this material and attempt to reapply principles and practices revealed within these pages. It is not an easy process as most of us have a fundamental belief that our spirituality and our intentions are generally aligned with being good. A familiarity with prayer rituals, an investment in other people, a general intention to behave well, and an absence of atrocious behavior relative to others can leave one comfortable in blissful self-adoration, or at least not fully alive and receptive to the potentiality of God having greater or at least different expectations for us today.
If God were our employer, would it be good enough to ride the wave on what we have accomplished yesterday, to have good intentions, to lazily commit errors that we have identified in the past as requiring immediate and sustained improvement?
Thankfully God is not our employer. I would have been terminated and Godless long ago if not for God’s infinite mercy and the saving grace of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
The first action involved a trip to my spiritual director and a rehashing of prior sins, both recent and long ago. A compelling need to place my imperfections before God and my spiritual director provided a base from which to seek and renew a process of seeking sanctification. This step was taken pursue fluidity and continuity of my continued journey to seek proximity to God. Dietrich describes our tendency to resist change this way:
“This tendency to self-affirmation and petrification, as opposed to the readiness for being transformed in all these points and for receiving the imprint of the face of Christ instead of the old features, is the antithesis to what we have meant here in speaking of fluidity.”
Contrition is an act that counteracts this tendency. A conscious effort to clean house through informed and guided true penance:
“Turn away Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities,
Create a clean heart in me O God:
And renew a right spirit within my bowels,
Restore unto me the joy of Thy Salvation,
And strengthen me with a perfect spirit.”
The second action is to truly examine acquire the following:
- Knowledge of any actions or behaviors that would offend God and
- Knowledge of the “discrepancy between what we ought to be and what we are” including our metaphysical situation, our destiny, and our vocation(s)!
This is not a sociological, psychological, or philosophical knowledge – but an earnest examination of ourselves through the eyes of God, or at least as close as we can come to approximating his will and desires for us.
This is daunting. It can be utilized to merely validate how good we have been or dive into the martyrdom of our long list of omissions, negative actions, missed opportunities, and regrets. That is not the intention. There is nothing that we may discover that God does not already know. It is starting point or a re-engagement of our spiritual path. It may require minor or drastic course altering’s in the now (temporary actions) or down the road.
On True Consciousness:
The pillar continues as Dietrich lies down foundational steps one on top of the other. Achieving a mode of living in “true consciousness” where through the “conscious center of his soul a person comes of age morally and acquires the ability to utter the “yes” in the face of God which He demands of us.”
This is a steep hill as it is mode of living where everything is taken out of the mundane, out of the temporal, out of autopilot, and placed in the divine sphere – every thought, action and deed. We all have different gradients spirituality. I enjoy strategy games of chess and Texas hold’em poker. How does my enjoyment and time given to these activities pair with God’s intentions? I am at the moment unwilling to give up either entirely as the first has been a life time hobby and the second a monthly social gathering. For argument sake, let us say that through divine revelation or merely a recommendation by my spiritual advisor, that both these activities were deemed unworthy of any of my time.
Would I be able to disavow both entirely? Would I be able to further develop my discipline to have such an “act of disavowal render the impulse in question nonexistent or to eradicate it; yet that the impulse is invalidated, as it were, and in a sense decapitated and deprived of its malignant potency?” I presume I would struggle with this request from my human spiritual advisor but if I was so blessed with a vision of divine revelation they would not be hard to give up!
Our position in life, our strengths and weaknesses, our vocational calling will provide us guidance on how we direct out attentions. What we attend to we become. How much do we attend to God’s presence and what if anything takes precedence over God? That is not to say we are all meant to be cloistered Monks. However, within our metaphysical position in life we do have to carefully discern our God-given minutes here on earth and how best to deploy their use in a conscious manner.
On True Simplicity:
Seventy-four pages in Dietrich bring us back to put it all together and decipher how to live on the “sacral sphere” as opposed to the “motley variegation of life.” He states the goal this way:
“One supreme point of view governs our entire life and in subordination to that point of view all else is judged and settled. It is the principle of conduct enjoined in the words of the lord” “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all things shall be added unto you.” (Matt6.33)”
Or we can live on the flip side:
“The protean vastness of untruth, the maze of arbitrary and extravagant but witty errors and sophistries are considered with great interest – if only they divert the intellect from platitude and simplicity.”
Our intellects, important to guide our discernment of spiritual things and worldly matters, can easily be used to avoid the immense responsibility and obligations that come with living a spiritual life and seeking proximity to God. Any number of human frailties can have us running towards the “cult of the abstruse.” We see this every day in entrenched partisan politics. People run into their comfortable bubbles of ideological beliefs and utilize maelstrom intellectually dishonest strategies to defend their self-interest and position regardless of concrete evidence of the contrary.
Dietrich explores man traps and nuances of leading the simply life, more than I can enunciate here. Suffice it to say “Metaphysically speaking, the higher an entity is, the greater its simplicity. The soul is so simple as no longer to admit of a disjunction of form and matter.”
On Recollection and Contemplation:
What is the difference? Recollection in my words, is freeze framing a situation and point in time. We take control of our thoughts and our mind by slowing down the rapid-firing of neurological signals excited and engaged in current worldly concerns and pressures. We become mindful of their presence but through recollection create the distance from our entrenched connection to and enmeshing of feelings and attitudes associated with human events. From afar we can deconstruct and place complex situations on a table for deferment or right sizing against the backdrop of our spiritual orientation. When we are able to “empty our soul of all current concerns and are no longer possessed by the things which fill our life” we can turn to contemplation.
Here is the rub: “In order to recollect ourselves, we must shun everything that appeals to our craving for sensation.” This seems rather unfair to me. Has not my creator provided me five senses and a robust pleasure reception network to enjoy all that he has created? Perhaps not all, but certainly more than my eye can see? Dietrich takes us through the value of contemplation as when we are in true contemplation, with a focus on something greater than ourselves, something truly worthy of our adoration; we can come as close as we can to rest in the divine while still alive in our mortal skins. The author in each of these chapters takes hard shots at my comfortable sense of Christianity, at my fragile practice of prayer, and at the lack of mental and physical discipline present in my life contrasted with seeking living a truly sanctified life.
There are roadblocks and always will be roadblocks. The mystery here is God’s grace and mercy we seek to open our hearts to what is always within us, around us, and in proximity to our action and thought. My journey is never-ending and is not a future place but being, truly being where I am right now.
Academically, philosophically, and theologically speaking this is an apparent truth of reality. I cannot live in yesterday or tomorrow. Recollection and Contemplation in concert will and can inform our actions today and every day. Action without either is highly vulnerable to answering to artificial hierarchies established by other men or by ourselves, unguided by a central and eternal uniting principle of diving guidance.
Talk about not creating obfuscation? How is this simple? He answers this from many vantage points. For example, he says “First, we should consecrate every day space of time to inward prayer.” Simple enough. Leaving our worldly concerns behind he provides the following:
“I will forget everything that was, and is to come; nor think of what lies ahead of me. Whatever I am wont to carry and to hold in my arms I will let fall before Jesus. It will not fall into the void: standing before Jesus. I deliver it all up to him. Everything belongs to him: all burdening worries and all great concerns, both mine and those of the souls I love. I am not abandoning them as I would abandon them in seeking diversion: I know that in Jesus they are truly in a safe harbor. When at his call I relinquish and abandon all things. I am not casting them away; on the contrary, I am assigning everything to its proper place.”
There are many jewels in this chapter including the value of silence, solitude, appropriate rest. At the end of the day these activities are primary to action, but nonetheless action is than required in all our activities. The prose and elegance of his writings address the roller coaster of life and prayer.
So it is Ash Wednesday today. A forty day pilgrimage begins. Some devout Christians will sacrifice some element of themselves (actions, time, and commitments) and practice the prescribed attendance at Mass and perform various acts of fasting on specified days.
My spiritual director and I briefly discussed this Lenten period. Without getting into the weeds of our discussions, here are some of his ideas and mine for lent that one can consider:
- Prayer space and time: Establish a prayer space that provides you solitude and time without interruption.
- A.M. prayer: Add a few extra minutes to your established prayer
- Guided content: Consider reading daily scripture at the start of the day including commentary on the contest and meaning of the literary form.
- Weekday mass: When possible add in weekday masses (Noon?) where the daily scripture can be revisited and of course the gift the Eucharist present.
- 3 P.M. Pause: Set a bell or reminder for reflection at 3 P.M.
- P.M Prayer: Consider the Ignatius Examen as a peaceful close to your day:
- Become aware of God’s presence.
- Review the day with gratitude.
- Pay attention to your emotions.
- Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
- Look toward tomorrow.[i]
Where to start? Today’s reading is as true today as it was when it was written, now is the time:
20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.2 For he says,
“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”[c]
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor: 5:11 to 6:2)
May you have an enriching Lenten journey with fruitful recollection and contemplation!
Addendum: Check out Pope Francis message: