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Life is a process filled with processes

A process is a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a specific end. Consider, for example, the behaviour of ants in a colony. Even the apparent random wanderings of the colony's scouts are a purposeful part of the colony's process, because the colony is always “in process.”

People are said to be in process when they are a work in progress. I know that every person who comes to see me in my practice of psychotherapy is in process on several levels. Psychotherapy itself is another kind of process.

A process is something that is going on, something happening, something moving. It is a wave. Koiné Greek had a way of capturing process; it was in their verb structure. That language was not so much interested in time but the nature of things, that is, not so much interested in when something happened, but how it took place. Yes, of course they needed to account for time, but that was not the major consideration.

William Mounce, in his text, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, said, “The basic genius of the Greek verb is not its ability to indicate when the action of the verb occurs (time), but what type of action it describes, or what we call ‘aspect.'” There is a continuous aspect in which the action of the verb is an ongoing process. This would be like saying, “I am walking,” or even “I walk” (with the understanding that it means a continuous action of taking one step after another after another and so on). There was also an undefined aspect to the verb, meaning that the action was thought of as a simple event, without commenting about whether it was or was not a process. “I slept.” “She cried.” “We ate.” Thus, when Jesus spoke to his disciples and characterised the kind of life His followers were to lead, He said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). In that sentence the words “deny” and “take up” are in the undefined aspect, not saying much about the nature of those actions except that they were to occur, but the word “follow” is in the continuous aspect, meaning that the disciples of Christ were to live a life characterised by the continuous process of following.

Martine Batchelor, in the book The Spirit of the Buddha, indicated that Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, went through a process of enlightenment. At first he was the son, the prince in a kingdom that his father ruled. He was a member of a warrior family. His father's role was as benefactor and overlord, tilling land, collecting taxes, attending to the public works for the common good, and taking care of diplomacy with neighbouring states. His mother died a week after his birth. Siddhartha was a thoughtful, contemplative young man who perceived the common lot of humanity in terms of sickness, old age, and death. He empathised with the suffering of those he saw. At first he sought after the same things others did and in the same way that others did, but he reached a turning point in which fulfilling duties to his caste seemed empty, and he began to wonder if that was all there was to life. He began to desire to find a way to dissolve greed, hatred, and delusion. While still a youth he shaved off his hair and beard, put on the yellow robe and went out from his safe home into homelessness; he joined the life of wandering mendicants. He sat at the feet of various teachers who advocated such things as “nothingness” or the “sphere of neither perception nor non-perception.” These did not satisfy, but he learned meditation techniques that later proved valuable. At one point he practised ascetic disciplines that he hoped would provide an open door to what he had sought, but they did not satisfy; so, he decided to give up the way of asceticism, which left him alone to pursue his own, unique way. Batchelor concluded, “These are two characteristics of the spirit of the Buddha: on the one hand he was able to question, to try different things; and on the other hand he was able to go his own way, to depend upon himself …” These are the processes of life that led him to search. When he attained enlightenment at the foot of the Bodhi tree it was based on the processes of the cultivation of virtue, concentration, and understanding.

In Christianity the word “salvation” can be understood as either justification or sanctification. If it is justification, it is a dot, a point on the page, and it occurs as the culmination of one kind of process (that process leading to salvation). As such, it comes to completion, happens once, and it's done. However, sanctification is like a line on the page that just keeps going on and on. It is a process that is captured in St. Paul's words, “So then, my beloved …. work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2: 12-13). The aspect is continuous both in terms of the command to keep working out and the observation that God is continuously at work in the lives of such people both to will and to work for His pleasure. In terms of spirituality, what it points to is a synergistic relationship between God and human beings in which on the human side we are “working out,” (applying the disciplines conducive to spiritual growth) what on the God side is continuously being worked within (God in the process of developing salvation within us). The details of this process constitute the what and the how of one's spirituality.

Life is a process that is filled with diverse smaller processes. We get up, go to work, get home, go to sleep, and then we get up again and start the process over. Each day is like a mini-lifetime; each day each person has the opportunity to make good choices, love other people, revere God, and follow the leading of His Spirit. Whether you have attained enlightenment or are just trying to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, each day is a series of actions or steps taken in order to make you who you are. So, who are you in the process of becoming? What kind of a person do you want to be?

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Published November 19, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated November 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm)

Life is a process filled with processes

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