Very Boring Kinds of Goodness

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve not made any exciting changes for Lent (neither giving up a food nor picking up volunteer hours at the local something).  It’s not that these might not be good things to do, but I didn’t get a very right feeling about them, when I thought it over, and I am trying to do better about only working on the parts of acting morally that are easy for me to turn into rules to implement.

Here’s a very small, very dull example from earlier this week about the kind of weak attachment to good that I’d like to grow and strengthen during Lent.

I was walking out of the grocery store, holding my receipt, and looking for a trash can to stick it in.  However, the receipt was perforated, and as I was fumbling it about, about a two centimeter strip tore off and flew down the block on a gusty breeze.

I was already holding a heavy grocery bag (containing, among other things, an enormous jar of pickles) and I glared at the receipt, thinking grumbly thoughts about the inefficiency and outdatedness of the bag clerk handing me another physical object to have custody of and have to keep tidy.  Then I turned to continue home.

But I did think, for a moment, my peculiar blend of What would Christ do? or What would a good Kantian/cooperating agent using Timeless Decision Theory do? and stomped down the block to trap, retrieve, and dispose of the errant slip of paper.

I managed to get around to doing the decent thing, with a bit of lag time, but I can’t really say I did it in a spirit of love.   And it’s not like I was doing something heroic either; the best I can say is that I did the bare minimum: performed the correct act, without the correct attitude, but with (perhaps) the hope of one day managing the right spirit.

In the abstract, I can say it would be preferable to have a joyful, loving spirit in that moment.  It seems like it should be possible to pick up my litter with the same disposition as the one I have when I play peekaboo with a baby on the metro.  Something was disordered or somehow unhappy, and I was granted the privilege of restoring it to order and happiness.  But in the moment, what I mostly feel is put upon.

This kind of small-scale failure does remind me of what we’re longing for, during the slow procession to Easter: Love that comes to us, so we can finally be healed of spite and fear and participate fully in Love.

And these spontaneous stumbling blocks often do me more good than some deliberate disciplines.  A new prayer rule is something I will schedule and manage, so it fits within my life, but a lapse in love can take me by surprise and force me to see the distance between myself and goodness and to want the rift to be closed.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."


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