The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Rome and encourages them in a new way of living - the way of love. To do so, Paul suggests we need to renew of our mind by embracing Kingdom values, specifically love, and no longer conforming to the patterns of the world. This renewing of our minds is in effect a paradigm shift or a change in worldview, but what specifically does this mean?
Evagrius of Ponticus (345-399), a student of St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Basil the Great, and St. Gregory of Nyssa was at one point the Archdeacon of Constantinople. Evagrius systematized human behavior, thinking, and emotion, and he distilled it into what was called the “Eight Deadly Thoughts.” Evagrius Eight Deadly Thoughts are then placed alongside eight Godly virtues. These virtues illustrate the contrast between healthy and unhealthy thinking. Evagrius would speak of the disordering effect of the Eight Deadly Thoughts, which will by their nature inhibit our relationship with God, ourselves and with others. With the work of the Spirit and skilled Spiritual care we can navigate into a healthier place, yielding a deeper sense of connectedness and peace.
Gluttony is not just overeating but the practice of hoarding out of fear that there will not be enough, and a need to make sure you get your fill, which leads to over indulgence. Temperance is the growing confidence in the knowledge and the love of God. We learn that we can trust that whatever we truly need God will provide for us. In the security of God’s love there is simply no reason to be gluttonous, as there will always be enough.
Anger is a result of a violation. A violation of self: our social status, of our ideals, boundaries and or agreements. Anger is an emotion which we were created with. Anger is natural in light of such violations and injustices, but, as Paul exhorts the Ephesians, do not sin in your anger! Mildness is not the indifference towards those violations, but rather choosing to deal with these issues in ways which are consistent with love. Jesus would talk about several ways of dealing with these kinds of violations when He said things like turn the other cheek, forgive 70 x 7, go the extra mile, if another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone, and love your enemies!
Greed is deadly as well, driven by a need to be pathologically self-sufficient at the expense of other people. Greed makes us ravenous for those things which fortify our security, position and power. Generosity, on the other hand, is a fruit of knowing our value and security are in our relationship with God. In the security of this place we learn how to share with others and to enjoy (not be threatened by) the contributions of others. We learn to be at peace with that which we offer, understanding our value and position in the community is not secured by how much we have, what we own or control, but because of who we are.
Envy is overcome by contentment. Envy is rooted in a pathological desire to have the good things of another as if you are more deserving. Contentment is a quality we mature into as we learn to be truly thankful for what we have. Contentment comes from a deep inner revelation that you are truly loved and accepted for who you are, and not on the basis of your performance or your possessions. It is learning to have our needs met in relationship with God and not looking to what we have, or, more poignantly, in what we don’t have to meet those needs.
Growing in humility will overcome pride by helping us to see our true selves in the context of community. Humility will lead us to balance, understanding that not only our contributions but the contributions other contribute to the well-being of the community. Humility is not denying our gifts and abilities but realizing they too still need to be developed, and it recognizes the contribution of others in that development.
Lust will give way to chastity. This is a key area because lust is a bastardized form of love. It is a parasitic love which seeks to gratify its own need for pleasure, satisfaction, control and a sense of power at the expense of another. Chastity seeks to bring a sense of mutuality, a balance between being loved and loving. It leads to a faithfulness to, and a genuine care and concern for the person you love and understands that a person has value far beyond your direct benefit.
Indifference gives way to diligence in that we begin to understand that what we do and how we do it has implications. The good and noble things we do matter, no matter how small. A cup of water, visiting someone who is lonely, or a simple “hello” on the street all have some potential positive effect. My wife has the privilege of working with senior citizens as a Recreation Therapist in our health region. She has the opportunity to get to know and develop significant relationships with many elderly people, including those who suffer from various forms of dementia. She understands that when interacting with these people they will not remember her or their conversation for very long, and people often ask her, “What’s the use?” Her response brings me to tears each time I think of it. She gently replies, “Your right, they probably won’t remember it. But for the moment I was with them they were loved, and I believe that has an impact if only for that moment.” Diligence is choosing to love because love always matters, love always has an impact.
Where indifference is a belief that our actions do not matter, depression is the belief that we as people do not matter, we have no significance. Through this lens, we come to believe there is nothing good in the world, in our communities or families and there never will be. Evagrias suggests wisdom is the antidote for depression. Wisdom comprehends in a healthy sense the role we play in the lives of our family, community and globally. That our actions, our contributions, our voice, our presence for the sake of the Kingdom matters, and at the very least our “just showing up” is in itself a testimony to the generations to come. “It is a celebration of the past and anticipation of the future without being overly concerned about our particular involvement.”
For Evagrias understood the renewing of our minds as a maturing from unhealthy thinking to a paradigm of health, all of these virtues being a transition towards divine, healthy love - the outworking of the Love Paradigm in concrete ways in our lives.
Caution: The danger comes again when we reduce this to rule keeping or moralism and turn a wonderful work of Grace inspired by love into just another to-do-list of religious obligation. Let's be sure we understand this renovation in our lives is the work of the Holy Spirit and we simply choose to respond in love to this work. Remember to be patient with yourself!