Are you moving toward life or death?

What your preferred lifestyles and subcultures can tell you about the direction of your story

By Father William Watson

One of the practices that can help shape your life as sacred story is celebrating sacramental rec-onciliation monthly. A helpful preparation for reconciliation — or confession, as it is commonly known — is an examination of the embedded attitudes or lifestyles that shape your life story. These attitudes, lifestyles and subcultures are far more significant than we may think!

Father William Watson

As we’ve learned in previous columns, we consciously or unconsciously align our stories toward or away from God — toward life or death. The Book of Deuteronomy captures this reality as God places two distinct choices before the people of Israel: “Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.” (Deuteronomy 30:15)

This Scripture passage can serve as a guideline for examining our consciences. It’s an invitation to discern the good in our life from the evil. The spiritual inspirations of consolation and desolation mark the points where our path is set toward God and life as a sacred story, or departing from that path toward “death and doom.”

One method for approaching this process of discernment — this examination of conscience — is to consider what kind of cultures or subcultures we inhabit on a daily basis and what these tell us about whether we are moving toward or away from the author of life.

Listen to your heart
The commandments, Scripture and the teaching church propose a life that moves us toward a sacred story that will bear eternal fruit. On the other hand, when we choose to align ourselves with subcultures that are counter to the commandments, Scripture and church, it becomes more difficult to recognize anti-Gospel lifestyles that move us toward death and curse.

These anti-Gospel subcultures can be economic, political, artistic, ethnic, intellectual, sexual, athletic, addiction-based and technology-based, just to name a few. Even if a subculture is not inherently anti-Gospel, the primary danger is that we can easily “cocoon” ourselves in these cultures, allowing their definitions of happiness, success, the good, the beautiful and the moral to isolate us from the data coming from deep in our heart, or from any other source.

Subcultures word cloud

The data we want to pay attention to are those inspirations we have been considering in previous columns. It is more important to keep an eye on the direction the inspirations lead you, rather than whether individual inspirations make you feel good or feel bad. This may seem counterintuitive — how could an inspiration that feels bad actually be a sign that we are on the right path?

This can occur because divine inspiration (spiritual consolation) is a healthy lifestyle that may not feel healthy because it is not supported by the culture surrounding you. Counter-inspiration (spiritual desolation), on the other hand, is an unhealthy lifestyle that might not feel unhealthy because it is supported by the culture or subcultures in which you live. It is just like physical health — even though we know it is unhealthy, it still feels good to sit around eating junk food if that is our accustomed habit and environment.

Identify signature characteristics
It is often helpful to map some of the influences in your life. Make a small chart of the various subcultures where you spend most of your time: corporate culture, work environments, websites, social groups and associations, exercise or athletic environments, groups aligned with arts or entertainment, political parties and the cultures of film, television or radio.

Next to each subculture, write what you believe is its signature characteristic regarding its overall influence on your lifestyle. Does the subculture support divine inspiration or support counter-inspiration? In other words, is the subculture congruent with the values of the commandments, Scripture and the teaching and tradition of the church?

Do you have what St. Ignatius would call an “inordinate attachment” to any of these subcultures and the values they espouse? Does your affiliation with the subculture move you further along in your sacred story or does it obstruct your movement?

You can identify the trajectory of your story — and better prepare yourself for the sacrament of reconciliation — by reflecting on how you live and whether your lifestyle is influenced by the divine-inspirer or the counter-inspirer. One way of staying alert to your story is to take stock of whether the balance of your thoughts, words and deeds are in tune with the commandments, Scripture and the teaching church.

If not, then you can examine your story and ask God for insight as to what can lead you to living more in tune with life as sacred story.

Jesuit Father William M. Watson is the founder of Seattle’s Sacred Story Institute.