Spirituality for Today – January 2011 – Volume 15, Issue 6

Taxonomy and Your Umwelt

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

Opening the "Good Book" and turning to Genesis, the process of taxonomy (naming, categorizing) being applied to one's umwelt (German: environment) is abundantly present. Adam was instructed by God to name all that existed within his perceived world. In a lesser but still important degree, the ritual of beginning a new year by establishing a number of resolutions derived through the examination of one's self and of one's environment is a continuation of this activity.

A photo of a tree in the snow

Interestingly, year after year the consensus list of resolutions approximates each other: quit smoking, become fit, reduce weight, moderate drinking habits, improve organizational skills, add to knowledge and abilities, become debt-free, give more time to family, help others, and enjoy life. Someone once said, "I am master of all that I can explain." If so, why do people fail each year to achieve mastery of their identified goals? These annual disappointments are an indication of how easy it is to name what must be done and how difficult it is to do it.

In spite of such a dismal record, why don't we raise the bar this year? How about using the method of taxonomy toward the spiritual umwelt of your life? This time around, make a list of some important spiritual resolutions to address over the next twelve months. These goals might include: persist in daily prayer, participate more in parish organizations and events, volunteer more often to help in activities such as a local soup kitchen, increase spiritual awareness in daily actions, meditate, join a Bible Study, learn more about the teachings and the history of the Church, stop going to the places and stop associating with people that injure your morality, and develop more ways of showing love to family and friends.

Immediately, the questions arises, "If achieving success in pursuit of more secular resolutions has such a high failure rate, how much more of a lack of success will result in the effort to accomplish such lofty spiritual goals?" The key to success might be found in the degree of truth employed in the method of investigating one's current spiritual environment. Next, how "important" it is for the individual to reach the modifications of one's spirituality indicated by such an evaluation. Inertia is a powerful force in defining the state of an individual's intellectual, physical, and, yes, spiritual condition. Thus, the factors of truth and importance play such a pivotal role. If one is unwilling to be truthful in recognizing what is needed and place limited importance on achieving it, the chances of reaching and maintaining a particular goal is minimal. The final analysis will reveal the veracity of this view.

The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story and writes another, and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.

- James M. Barrie

Easily, one can become overwhelmed with a feeling of moral insufficiency when naming the obstacles to be overcome and the grand heights to be reached in the quest for holiness. Rather than become paralyzed, a more comprehensible and a more palatable expression of your goal is necessary. Using a teaching from Saint Paul, let us simply strive "to live a life pleasing to God." Pleasing is a very comfortable concept. Placing the focus on living each day in a manner that pleases God should also please self and others. At days end, assessing the effort made to modify your thoughts, words, and deeds takes into account both sin and grace. The next day, you begin renewed in the singular task of fashioning yourself as a person who is more pleasing to God. This approach keeps a person attentive to the impact of their interactions with others and aware of how doing good makes you feel good. Out of this feeling of satisfaction, the key elements of truth and importance are bolstered. In addition, failures are not crushing, but rather aid in developing the understanding required in re-directing one's efforts.

The great Albert Einstein (who certainly knows the meaning of the word – umwelt) said, "Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value." In the precision and directness of these words, we find a pleasing context to a resolution not only for a new year, but also for a new life.

Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.