Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thoughts Matter...

A few weeks ago a friend of mine mentioned his enjoyment of Thoughts Matter: The Practice of the Spiritual Life by Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, OSB. This is the first in a trilogy of books including Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life and Humility Matters for Practicing the Spiritual Life.

Funk bases her writings on the early monastic tradition, especially the writings of the famed monk, John Cassian, wherein one finds his system of three renunciations: of one's former life, of one's mindless thoughts, and finally, of one's image of God.

And so, Funk helps the modern reader to work through this second renunciation, that of thoughts. She opens with a chapter on thoughts in general and then systematically discusses specific thoughts, based on Cassian's eight vices: thoughts on food, sex, things, anger, dejection, acedia, vainglory, and the most deadly of them all, pride.

Funk's counseling words on food and sex are quite prudent and it is clear that she is rooted well in the tradition and doesn't have some sort of "modern liberating" agenda. She presents the wealth of Christianity's approach to these two earthy and normal topics in short and accessible prose that is faithful to the tradition. Whereas someone might not be likely to pick up Cassian's large Conferences, they can indeed read this 136 page book without fear of getting lost in the ancient world's context and worldview of fourth century monastics.

I knew I liked this book when on page 29 she writes, "When the mind is stilled the smell, taste, and feel of that first cup of coffee is special and enjoyed as if for the first time!"

A few lines:

"Cassian taught that extremes meet. Having either too much or too little usually results in the same consequences in the spiritual life. All self-willed compulsions are to be avoided; gluttony or excessive fasting, for instance, are equally dangerous. Frigidity and hostility toward others are as bad as sexual fantasies that lead to lewd conduct. The middle road helps to keep me humble" (pg 76).

"Humility is a right relationship with myself; fear is a right relationship with God" (pg 107).

"Thoughts against God that [spiritual] pride stimulates follow this sequence: I have powers, even spiritual ones. I can use them for my benefit. God no longer deserves my loyalty. In fact, other seekers should be loyal to me. I can show ethem a path to great heights of wisdom and power. God may not exist. He has no power to punish those who have figured this out, like I have. God can be damned for all I care. Hell, damnation and punishment don't exist either. If God is good, he won't punish, and if He does then I don't want any part of that either" (pg 125).

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