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Spiritual Character

Character counts! During the recent cycle of political engagement, I was privileged to read David Brooks' The Road to Character. What I have learned from both experiences is that character, the quality of our soul, is important as we move toward responsibility, toward leadership, toward the Divine.

He speaks of two personalities residing within each of us; that split should be enough to cause us to submit to the Divine Therapy. The first personality is attracted to pleasure and self-seeking happiness. The second personality, rooted in the Divine, is the only aspect of ourself that is capable of soul satisfaction and sustainability. This second personality seeks the way of wisdom and worship, the way of service and love. The first personality is "restless" and "fearful."

Using a number of great characters of history: labor rights advocate Frances Perkins; advocate of the poor Dorothy Day; advocate of discipline and self-mastery General George Marshall; civil rights advocate Philip Randoph; spiritual advocate Augustine of Hippo; and others, Brooks helps us to understand the attributes of real character. One of my favorite fictional characters, played by Gregory Peck, is Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. There was a person of tender kindness and moral strength, a person made of both steel and velvet!

Brooks proposes the Humility Code:

1. We don't live for happiness, we live for holiness

2. A proper self-appraisal goes a long way toward deeper humility

3. Self-inquiry also reveals the splendor that resides within each of us

4. In our struggle, we discover that humility is the greatest virtue, and that

5. Pride is the greatest vice

6. Once basic needs are met, the struggle for character, against sin and for virtue, should be the theme of our existence

7. Character only emerges as we courageously confront our shadow, our inner demons

8. What leads us astray is our emotional reactivity, anxiety, anger and fear

9. Humility is not achieved in a vacuum; other people and a Higher Power are necessary to the journey

10. We are all saved by grace, by uninvited, unearned acceptance

11. The courage to confront our weakness comes from calming the voice of our ego, by quieting the "restless" self, by being still and knowing something greater than ourselves

12. Wisdom, the crown of real character, is a function of meekness and modesty, humility

13. To find our character, our soul, we must find our vocation, our calling, our unique gift that no one else in the universe is capable of answering or offering

14. The true person of character leads "along the grain of human nature rather than going against it"

15. Finally - such a character may never reach the history books, but such a person is an embodiment of "unity of purpose," pursuing a worthwhile unattainable.

In speaking of character, Brooks identifies "pride" as the chief stumbling block, the voice that says: "I am self-sufficient, great and powerful."

"Pride can come in bloated form. This person wants people to see visible proof of his superiority. He wants to be on the VIP list. In conversation, he boasts, he brags. He needs to see his superiority reflected in other people's eyes."

There are also the proud persons who have low self-esteem.

"They feel they haven't lived up to their potential. They feel unworthy. They want to hide and disappear, to fade into the background and nurse their hurts. We don't associate them with pride, but they are still, at root, suffering from the same disease. They are still yoking happiness to accomplishment… they tend to be just as self-centered, only in a self-pitying and isolating way rather than in an assertive and bragging way."

Probably my favorite vignette in the book is on Augustine, one of the Fathers of Modern Christian Theology. Augustine noted in his autobiography,

"'The older I got in age, the worse I got in emptiness," noting that "our hearts are restless until we rest in Thee."

Is it any wonder that the very first beatitude of Jesus was: "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit..," the humble!

May you find within yourself that divine spark of wisdom that ever leads the humble soul toward the shoreline of real character! Bless you and your journey!

Happy Thanksgiving,


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