Learning to Will One Thing

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In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus. HIs state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as humans are; and being as all humans are, he was humbler yet even to accepting death death on a cross.
Philippians 2: 5-8

But every one of them made an excuse not to come. The first said to him, “I bought a field and must go out and inspect it. I ask you to consider me excused.” Another said, “I bought five yoke of oxen. I am going to test them. I ask you to consider me excused.” Another said, “I have married a wife. For this reason I cannot come.”
Luke 14: 18-20

Why do we multi-task? One simple answer is that we do so because our modern technology has made it possible. We are now able to drive a car and speak on the phone or participate in a conference call and make ourselves a snack all at the same time. But, while our technology now makes this possible, it is not the cause of our dispersed, masquerading as efficient, attention. Our life of desire, by its very nature, is dispersed and scattered. As many of us were reminded by our parents, our tendency is to “want it all”.

A teacher of mine once pointed out that human beings are those who are able to put together things that don’t belong together. So, I want my way, but I want you to be happy with it. I want to do what brings me the greatest comfort and gratification, but I want to be seen as a good person and upstanding citizen at the same time. Put in the terms of today’s parable from Luke, I want to be invited to the banquet, but I also want to fulfill my desires for possessions and relationships on my own terms.

We are reminded in Philippians of the contrasting attitude of the “Christ Form” of life. “. . . he did not cling to equality with God but emptied himself to assume the form of a slave.” How are we called to empty ourselves, and how, in our age which so enables our life in diaspora, do we practice such self-emptying?

Our reading these weeks from the gospel of Luke has pointed out Jesus’ predilection for the poor and the marginalized. One reason for this that we can readily appreciate is that possessions are for us a source of dispersal. The more we have, the more we are aware of the possibility of having, the more our consciousness fragments. Once we have an iPad, we experience the need for one with greater capacity. Once we have a cellphone, we feel that if we only had bluetooth in our car, we could attend to those return calls before getting to work. One way to begin the practice of self-emptying is to deepen our awareness of the difference between what we need and what we want.

In the realm of relationships, the practice of self-emptying requires of us that we learn, little by little, the ways of loving without the demand for response. This is why Jesus says to invite those who cannot repay us. When someone hurts or fails us, we experience the degree to which our “love” of them is really more of a contract for mutual support and gratification than love. We constantly experience our love of another as conditional, but, in truth, nothing another can do can keep us from loving them, as did Jesus in becoming a “slave” to our inhospitality and ingratitude.

Soren Kierkegaard described purity of heart as “willing one thing.”

Everyone who in truth wills one thing will eventually be led to will the Good. Though it may sometimes be that a person innocently begins by willing one thing that is not in the deepest sense the Good, he will, little by little, be transformed so as to will the Good. For example, romantic love has sometimes helped a person along the right road–he faithfully tries to will one thing, namely, the happiness of his love. In the deepest sense, however, falling in love is still not the Good. At best it is a formative educator that will lead to the willing of one thing and to the willing of the Good.

Only the Good is one thing. It alone is one in its essence and the same in each of its expressions. Take true love as an illustration. One who genuinely loves does not love but once. Nor does he offer part of his love, and then again another part. No, he loves with all of his love–not a bit here and a bit there. It is wholly present in each expression. He continues to give it away as a whole, and yet he keeps it intact as a whole, in his heart. Wonderful riches! When the miser has gathered all the world’s gold in sordidness–then he has become poor. Yet, when the lover gives away his whole love, he keeps it entire–in the purity of the heart.

Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing

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