Our Habits Shape Our Desires

The Nashotah House blog has a very interesting article up about the importance of habit and practice, and the way the things we do shape and alter the person we become.

[O]ur habits are not only formed by our desires, but play a significant role in shaping our desires. The more you practice something – make a habit of it – the stronger your desire grows for your end goal, your telos (a Greek word meaning “end” or “purpose”).We do what we love and this is what shapes us into the kinds of creatures we become.

Christians ought to consider this seriously – especially when it comes to formation in the faith. … it is not only through our intellect that we learn, but through practice. [Philosopher James K.A.] Smith’s concern is primarily with Christian education. He fears the insufficiency of a Christian pedagogy that merely hands down information, but fails at teaching formation. In his latest book, Imagining the Kingdom, Smith says, “Attention to intellect is insufficient precisely because there is an irreducible, unique understanding that is only carried in practices and only absorbed through our immersion (over time) in those practices – and it is this nonconscious understanding that drives our action” (p.13). In essence, who we are – our Christian character – will be shaped more by our practice than the information we receive and retain.

If we think about this idea in the context of liturgical worship, we gain an understanding of liturgy’s significance in the life of the believer. … Liturgy (“the work of the people”)… educates the believer by way of participation and habit. Each service, believers carry out very similar actions. Praying the Psalms, bowing, genuflecting, censing the altar, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, all become a reality in which the believer is constantly being shaped by his or her habits. What happens over time is deep formation. The participation (coupled with teaching) helps the believer understand the significance of what they practice and the symbols and sacraments in which they participate. Not only is information conveyed, but formation is learned through habit. It is not always the case, but the outcome of this should be Christian character shaped by habit – the habit of participating in God’s Story. Just as a funny television program gives us the desire to laugh more, so should our liturgical practice give us more of a desire to recognize and embody God’s Kingdom on earth.

We in the Anglo-Catholic tradition are always in danger of our liturgical practice becoming a dead form. It is easy for us to enjoy the outward rituals we participate in – smells and bells are attractive to the human senses. But if we allow our character and our lives to be shaped through a liturgical “pedagogy of desire,” paying attention to what all of it means (hint, hint: God’s Kingdom is very near), we will be oriented toward the world in such a way that, with Christ’s help, we will carry out the “work of the people” we are commissioned to do.

Read it all here.

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