The Law of Attraction and Catholic Christian Though [3/4]   Leave a comment

Introduction

 

Since coming back to Catholicism this issue has been something a nagging side issue that I have sought to resolve. On one hand I have heard it solves every problem, and on the other hand I have told it is mere pseudo-witchcraft, the truth I think lies somewhere in the middle. When I began to try and integrate my increasing Catholic faith with things I have learned before coming back into the largely Christian fold, I tried to integrate The Law of Attraction with Catholicism and what I knew about the deeper Christian Tradition through a Catholic Online Forum and the fruits of said discussion I would like share with you today. I knew that people from The Law of Attraction school of thought wanted to cite some Christian Material as justification for their philosophy, so I wanted to take the time and discuss that with the reader today as well. After the scriptural and patristic discussion I wanted to discuss where else I had seen this issue of a person’s desires being discussed in light of the Christian Tradition. Finally I am intended to offer my final educated position on the matter as well as the criteria and procedure as to when one should consider using The Law of Attraction as a Christian.

Reading “A Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything”

When I was trying to find a book that might be able to offer a Catholic Christian equivalent to The Law of Attraction, I came across the author James Martin, a Jesuit Priest and writer who was the author of a book titled, “A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” (see, my review here) there were certain points that I believe can help broaden the appreciation between The Law of Attraction (LoA) and Christian Thought. This section is important as I intend to discuss Desires, Discernment, and certain virtues which may or may not necessarily be viewed entirely in good light, but are nonetheless important to consider. This section is important as the following section is built on this section in large part. Of course it should be noted that the author believes that all Lawful and Virtuous Desires will point to God.

I. Desires and the Spiritual Life

According to the Author in commenting on Jesus and The Blind Man Bartimaeus, “Jesus was helping the man identify his desire, and to be clear about it… Why this emphasis on desire? Because desire is a key way that God speaks to us.” This only echo’s what I said in the previous section commenting on the different kinds of Love, that Christian Love is built on our natural inclinations and desires, and that we should not feel guilty having them, but that we should share them in Gratitude and Joy with people around us whether friend or enemy, stranger or sibling, and all that is in between, this is True Charity, or Caritas.

The author goes on further to say, “Holy desires are different from surface wants, like ‘I want a new car’ or ‘I want a new computer.’ Instead I am talking about our deepest desires the ones that shape our lives: desires that help us know who we are to become and what we are to do… The deep longings of our hearts are our Holy Desires, not only physical healing’s as Bartimaeus asked for but also the desires for change, for growth, for a fuller life.” This to me is key, I know that LoA could be used to gain superficial and trivial things but what if the LoA was combined with say the Cataphatic Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius to really imagine having something in light of Christ? These desires are things of a deeper nature and which change our lives and make us grow in what is Good. Now is it to say that desiring a New Car or Computer is bad? No of course not, but as with everything else in life its how you hold on to something that matters, plus the recognition of the impermanence of what it is you desire.

The author goes on to talk about 8 Ways in which Holy Desires are manifested for the talk as it relates to us will be limited to 6 Ways however and, they are:

(1) Incompletion, he says of this way that, “Dissatisfaction does not have to be stoically endured; it can lead to decision, change, and more fulfilled life… Yet even in acquiring these things [e.g. money, status, power, pleasure] they may still feel incomplete, as if they are chasing something they can never catch… The prize of wholeness is elusive. Emptiness remains.” Notice the author is not attacking “these things” rather he is saying that in acquiring them we ought to avoid the trap that, “If I had a little bit more than I would be happy.” Therefore, a deeper desire is more than this cyclical way of thinking. Perhaps it could be said that through desiring the very things that make us feel incomplete it will help us realize their own impermanence.

(2) Common Longings and Connections, he says of this way that, “Sometimes you experience a desire for God in very common situations… Common longings and heartfelt connections are ways of becoming conscious of the desire for God.” After discussing the Story of the Leprosy of General Naaman of Syria the author makes it clear that simple things, not extravagant things can point us to the desire for God in our lives. The interesting connection to be made here is that, in having a desire for something it can unfold into other things as time goes on, but here is a truth that is both a warning and liberating: A Warning because, we need to watch out for the circular logic above; but Liberating because the desire can serve as a means of growth and change.

(3) Uncommon Longings, he says of this way that, “Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the Divine, to sense in the small things the beginnings of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple.” Perhaps, in using the LoA we can call into our lives these moments of awe in order to give us a clearer understanding of what it is that we truly desire. Certainly, moments of awe do not belong to a privileged few, as the author contends.

(4) Exaltation, he says of this way that, “best described not as ineffable desire or strong connections, but times when one is lifted up or feels a sense of exaltation and happiness.” According to the author these are moments of feeling an immense beauty in the world around you, ultimately beauty points to something that we desire deep down as well, true beauty not just the external beauty. Using the LoA to break out of one level of awareness and call to be exalted to a whole new level of awareness now that is transformative.

(5) Clarity, he says of this way that, “Sometimes we feel that we are tantalizingly close to understanding exactly what this world is about… Feelings of clarity may be similar to feelings of exaltation. Indeed, many of the feelings we’re looking at may overlap.” These the author describes by his own experience as moments where you think, “This is right where I should be.” Using the LoA to discover Clarity would allow us to know what it is exactly that we need and should be asking for.

(6) Vulnerability, he says of this way that, “God is able to reach us because our defenses are lowered. The barriers that we erected to keep out God –whether pride or fear or lack of interest – are set aside whether intentionally or unintentionally. We are not less rational. We are more open.” It is true that the hardships in life that we go through, both desires and regrets, lead us to refine who we are and what we want. Therefore, keep in mind your hardships, your struggles, and your regrets and allow them to refine more precisely what it is you are looking for in life, and bring such a broad vision down into specific and precise manifestations that you need to get there. Perhaps, the things you want can teach you by experience more about the the things you need and truly want at a deeper level.

The author concludes this section with the understanding that, “God Meets You Where You Are” and in light of all that I have written thus far in this paper, God meets you in your natural inclinations and practical desires as well as the lofty spiritual heights that we are called to attain, with the help of Grace of course. In the end God presents Himself to us in a way that we can understand, but does not keep us there for He seeks to reveal what, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2:9) or according to the author, as the Psalmist says, “Deep calls unto deep…”

II. Discernment and Decision Making

The author begins by saying that, Discernment is the overall term for the decision-making practices outlined by Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises… The way of Ignatius will help you answer the question, ‘What should I do?’” Of course, once one figures out what they should do, then they can map out how to get from where they are now to where they should be, from this point I can see Prayers of Petition to the Christian God as well as the LoA being useful aid in getting to realize a person’s true calling and true happiness. There is only one talent that needs to be developed or sharpened and the author calls it, Indifference, in more contemporary phrasing I believe the word, Objectivity or honesty best describes the Talent of Indifference, since the word for indifference implies apathy in today’s language. Nonetheless the author goes on to say that,

“What Ignatius meant by Indifference was freedom: The freedom to approach each decision afresh – The ability to be detached from one’s initial biases and to step back, the willingness to carefully balance the alternatives – Openness to the working of God in one’s life.” Indifference is hard to achieve, it demands an impartial attitude to something you passionately want or do not want, but the rewards of such honesty are lasting and incredible. After practicing the Talent of Indifference toward one’s own desires, and begins to decide which path to choose, Ignatius believes that we ought always to aim toward moments and impressions of Consolation, which according to the author, “you will feel [intuition more than affections] a sense of rightness, of peace… An indication that you are on the right path.” Contrary to this are moments and impressions of Desolation, which the author describes as, “movements to ‘disquiet from various agitations and temptations,’ signals an indication that you are on the wrong path.”

The author describes 3 Situations, or as Ignatius called 3 Times in which we finding ourselves making a choice, each one with varying levels of difficulty in deciding and acting:

(1) The First Time“Occasionally there is no question about what to do. This is decision making in the First Time, your decision comes without doubting or being able to doubt.” These moments in ones life are moments when everything is in its right place, things are aligned in such a way that they point to a clear opening in which for us to act, they could best be described as Synchronistic moments of meaningful coincidences. For example, a mother who yearns to go back to school suddenly has more time for herself since her kids have become radically independent and the money is available to make it work. Scripturally speaking, it’s like St. Paul’s Conversion Experience.

SIDE NOTE: In Christianity, there seems to suggest that Synchronicity has a place both through what are called Signal Graces as well as St. Thomas Aquinas Continual Creation.

(2) The Second Time“The second time is less clear… It requires some deliberation. It is good to meditate on which choice will give you greater consolation; Consolation leads you to feel encouraged, confident, and calm in your decision… Ignatius understood that God works through our deepest desires. When we are following that path to God, things seem right. Things feel in synch because they are in synch.” The author how also makes it clear that complacency and smugness can masquerade as consolation which we must be ever mindful of, “Honesty in what you are really feeling, and why, is paramount.”

(3) The Third Time“You find yourself with two or more good alternatives but neither one is the obvious choice. There is no AHA! Moment. There is little clarity in prayer and meditation… The Third Time, Ignatius provides two methods… The First Method is based on Reason… The Second is based less on reason and more on Imagination.” Through the first method you start with Indifference, and then move into Prayer and then listing out all the positives and negatives of options you need to consider, finally pray over these points and see which way your reason inclines, only to conclude with some sort of confirmation through God which maybe a subtle sense of consolation.

Through the second method you could either imagine talking to someone and giving them advice over what they should do if they were in your situation and then do it, or you might imagine yourself on your death bed imagining which one would give you greater consolation and joy for making the better choice, or the final imaginative action you might choose is being at the Last Judgment, but the Last Judgment scene is more so for issues of moral weight than practical weight.

The author concludes with a forewarning telling us that a decision influenced by, “What-If’s” (Future Focused) and “If-Only’s” (Past Focused), are not necessarily good influences either for the Christian, in Christ we know that, “Today has its own problems” and “We are freed from the Sins of Our Past.” The author also tells us that for those who go from Bad to Worst position by listening to inordinate desires it is like a drop of water on a sponge, feeling delicate, gentle, and delightful. However we are quickly reminded that the desires we have are not of God when we feel in our conscience a sense of water falling on a stone which is startling, hard, loud, even violent, noisy, and disturbing. For those pro-actively striving for desires and decisions that go from Good to Better things then it is Our Conscience which becomes like water falling on a sponge and the inordinate desires seem to feel like water hitting stone. Finally, the author concludes this section with a quote from St. Ignatius which says, “Our only desire and our one choice, should be this: I Want and Choose what better leads to God’s deepening His life in me.”

III. Obedience, Acceptance, and Suffering

Of the Virtue of Obedience, the author says that, “The word comes from the Latin ‘Oboedire’ which includes the root for, ‘to hear…’ Obedience is about freedom, too. It frees you from excessive self-interest, careerism, and pride and allows you to respond more readily to the larger needs of the community.” The problem of course rests in whom do you obey, if it is not God? We cannot obey every desire that impulsively springs forth from within us because, we would become slaves to passions that may work against our best interests and those around us (see video below), yet at the same time to obey the community or the majority is not good either, for sometimes the community does not know what is best for it either. At the end of the day, I submit that we must be Honest with ourselves if we are to follow the Truth and Philanthropic if we are to live a life of Love and to be receptive in listening to those who are perceptive enough to see what we really need and wise enough to know how it can give us what we really want. There the biggest point in this paper rest in the fact that, none of this will make sense without God by your side; for the LoA will give you what you want regardless of your foundation, but it does not know what you really need, for what you need is rooted on the foundation you put yourself on: The Timeless Need can only be satisfied by that which we understand to be Eternal. To build our Foundations on anything but the Eternal will always lead to frustration as I point out above.

Through Obedience, we gain the Virtue of Acceptance and Suffering Well. Let me illustrate how the LoA can both help and hurt one since it knows only to give what is on your mind and what you re-affirm in the course of the day:

If a man were to desire endless sex and re-affirms that through endless encounters, then the LoA would have to bring into his life more people who desire the same thing. However, if he should become tired or despairing of this and has a conversion experience, then this man would submit himself under God who would desire Chastity until marriage but the challenging transition from Easy Lust to Hard-Gained Chastity and Ideal Consummate Love will bring about suffering and trials at which point the man could think about things that he could be doing to get himself out of those situations that tempt him and attract into his life through the LoA things that would encourage Chaste and Self-Giving Behaviors rather than Lusty and Hoarding Behaviors.

This is only one example, but as we can see, through Obedience to God’s Will he gains Chastity and realizes the fleeting rewards of Lust. Through Acceptance of God’s Will he holds strong against the challenge of overcoming his own temptations. Through Suffering Well he learns more about himself and comes to a higher awareness of life around him.

At this point in time I wanted to write a brief side note regarding God’s Will, since my days in High School I often wondered (as most people do), “What is God’s Will for me?” After watching the DVD of The Secret, Neale Donald Walsch essentially said, “There is no blackboard in the sky that has God’s plan for me, God’s Plan is whatever you make of it.” Aside from the terrible Egoic Subjectivism that I found Mr. Walsch’s statement to carry, I found solace in the Virtue of Obedience not just because it moderates the rampant Subjectivism of Walsch but because according to Fr. James Martin, S.J. “When it comes to daily life, God’s Will is not some abstract idea to be figured out or puzzled over or even discerned. Rather, God’s Will is what is presented before us each day: Circumstance, Places, People, and Problems.” Scripturally speaking though, God’s Will is Love that is both Self-Giving and invites people to come to higher appreciation of themselves and creation around them, it is rooted in Truth, as well as for the salvation of souls.

Therefore, if such a Love and such a Truth is embodied in the particulars and contexts of our lives in the day-to-day things we do, whether incredible or not, there is God’s Will being realized. Having concluded this section, the final section of this post will discuss the Criteria I honestly tried to devise in light of this paper and the research that went into making this paper, the last section will also discuss the procedure that I intend to use the LoA under, and finally briefly mention my past experiences with the LoA.

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