The Intentionality of Becoming

I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act. 

-G.K. Chesterton

We are in a constant state of becoming, and the obvious dichotomy divides us into those who are becoming more than what we are (growth), and those who are becoming less than what they are (decay). But there is still another dichotomy, perhaps more subtle, yet certainly of greater importance: the division between those who are intentionally becoming and those who are allowing their circumstances to dictate who they are becoming.

Look upon those bitter souls for whom every human interaction is a matter of inconvenience, for whom everyone is at odds with their desires. They have undoubtedly met with circumstances where they have been harmed by other people. Maybe they were abandoned by their parents as children, or their hearts were broken by a lover. It is possible that they were betrayed by a friend, lost a child, or encountered some other manner of hardship inflicted upon them by the purposeful or accidental cruelty of another. Such people have permitted circumstance to define who they are becoming, and far from growing, their decay alienates them further from their fellow man and detaches them all the more abruptly from the Divine presence of God.

One might protest that we are all defined by our circumstances; we cannot help but to be shaped by them. This is hardly the case. Our circumstances indeed force us into new and different experiences, but the circumstances themselves are merely the external factors of our experiences. Two people may be injured in the same automobile accident, but experience it differently. Their circumstances are the same, but the internal factors that define their reaction to that circumstance more substantively delineates the future recollection and lessons gained from the totality of the experience.

It is certainly possible that there are people who go through life passively from circumstance to circumstance who grow and are becoming more than they are, but this seems not only unlikely, but something rather dangerous to leave to chance.

Our English word ‘intention’ comes from the Latin intentio which means “stretching, purpose” and is derived from the Latin verbe tendere. It is rather apt to conceive of our intentionality of becoming as a stretching process. To be intentional means more than to react to a circumstance in a positive way. It means to internalize the experience and to make it a part of oneself. If we imagine our souls as a global surface on which we affix postmarks of our experiences, then in order to add a new postmark, we must stretch our soul into a larger sphere. This requires conscious intentionality.

Such a process also necessitates a certain level of risk taking. Not only must we take risks in order to be given opportunities to grow (the risk averse tend to be those people in a constant state of decay), but we must also take risks in the context of each experience. We must often stretch our souls in advance of the benefits of a new experience, or to accommodate a new person in our lives, leaving open the possibility that in creating new space, we may ultimately fail in filling it, with the remaining void emerging as a new source of pain. Sometimes our growth must come from how we experience new sources of pain, and so while we may be stretching ourselves in order to gain some particular positive experience, it may be that what we actually learn derives from the failure to reach those expectations.

The beauty of this reality is that eventually, every risk we take will garner us some reward in positively shaping our process of becoming, whether it is the one we were hoping for or not. Quite frequently, it is the unexpected outcome that is the most rewarding.

Nevertheless, there is a distinction between healthy risk-taking and recklessness, and the ability to discern between the two is a necessary spiritual and intellectual skill, one that must be practiced, developed, and honed over the course of time in divers and numerous experiences. It is the concept of discernment that we will examine next.

In the meanwhile, however, let us reflect on our intentionality, how we define who we are becoming, and how we must see opportunities for growth outside of what is comfortable. We will invariably find riches beyond the capacity of our imaginations to conceive if we set ourselves toward growth. The world in which we live is filled with an abundance of options, choices, ways to live, ways to organize our lives, ways to spend our time, many of which are outside the realm of the regular and expected. Setting ourselves toward growth means setting ourselves up to explore these possibilities, wherein we discover the riches of God in the fulfillment of our vocation to become united with the Divine.




Time, My Coy Mistress

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

-Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress

For all the days of our mortal lives, we are in only one state of constancy: the state of becoming. We are always becoming something other than that which we already are. Some people are becoming something more than they are; others are becoming less; the former is growth, the latter decay, but it cannot be denied that even a rotting carcass is becoming something different. The Eastern Church holds to the notion that Time was not created directly, but was rather the necessary consequence of motion, which followed in the creation of matter and the universe. Pre-creation the Triune Godhead was in perfect harmony and communion with His-self, knowing all that was knowable, with no need to move. Creation engendered movement, matter changing, shifting, becoming, and Time then entered into existence.

As created beings, we comprehend Time in only a limited way, as the intervals between our birth and death. History may cover a vast expanse that to us is as a pinhead, inconceivably finite and inconceivably infinite at the same time. Having no ability to experience history, except our own minuscule part in it, we see it as entirely “other” to ourselves, and thus we feel no more connected to Copernicus than to Moses, who both occupy static pages in books that will not change through all the passing years, and yet who both changed the course of humanity in their own ways. Hence, our true experience of Copernicus and Moses is through what they helped the human race to become, not who they were.

If our existence is to be toward some end, that is, if we are to concern ourselves with the teleological implications of our existence, then we must be ever mindful of our Time. That we have a certain quantity of Time to spend would in itself be motivator enough to use it wisely, but the uncertainty of the quantity, which we know only to be finite, ought to motivate us to be diligent in practicing and perfecting the skills within our endowment that are to help us to become what it is that we are to become. The progression toward that end, then, is our vocation, or calling.

This vocation is wrapped up in the whole vocation of the human race, which is also collectively in a constant state of becoming. Hence, our vocation is not only to progress toward that End which we are to individually become, but to contribute to the End toward which Humanity itself is supposed to become. In the sense that we are to individually become united to the Divine, we are simultaneously to become united to the Human. If we should attain the ethical nature of the Trinity, we should relate to our fellow Humans in the same way that the Persons of the Trinity relate to each other. The Divine Economy of God should be replicated in the Divinized Economy of Man. That we are each individually so estranged by our Wills from this Grace makes such an End seem altogether fanciful, even outlandish if we delve into the particulars.

As we descend in our thought process from the Metaphysical to the Physical, this dream takes flight from our conscious minds as waking in the morning. We find ourselves in the gritty reality of the Physical, alienated from our fellow man and detached from God, where Time chips away at our resources for discovering and transforming. The hand-off from one generation to the next is fraught with peril–the new generation must relearn the mistakes of the past generations (discovery) before it is capable of continuing the work of progress (transformation), and this is the reason that progress is so slow in coming, and why ideals of the sanctification of the human race seem elusive in every age. Yet over history, in the long view, we bear witness to the realities of this sanctification, this maturity of our collective Being in each successive century.

We seem to be at a unique intersection in human history. Collectively, we are mature and self-aware enough to expedite the process of sanctification, of becoming what we are meant to become, but we are ever confronted with the problem of our Will, which stands in the way of both discovery and transformation. Our Will, which is rooted in our biological nature to preserve ourselves is at odds with the teachings of Christ in his most powerful paradox, “He who shall save his own life shall lose it, and whoever shall lose his life shall save it.”

Our institutions are in dire need of fundamental reformation: the Church, the State, the Economy, the Family, Civil Society.

The greatest foe (and yet, most necessary ally) in this process of reformation is Time, that coy mistress that at once motivates us to hurry our becoming and takes from us the resources we need for its achievement. Though ahead of us may lie vast deserts of eternity, we stand in the midst of the lush forest of the Present, in which Time’s thievery cannot steal from us Beauty, Passion, and Love.

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