Our life may be imprisoned in functional dispositions. They dim the vision of the spirit. Most harmful in this regard are those of ascendancy over others. To prove our functional potency, we may strive vigorously to outshine other people. This competitive attitude engenders inordinate strife and self-exertion. As a result our bloodstream may be polluted with overdoses of glandular chemicals. Arteries, brain, heart, and other organs may suffer from such surfeit. Disorder results. Problems like these multiply in functionalistic cultures because they are dominated by social form traditions that neglect the unfolding transcendent dispositions. – Adrian Van Kaam (From Formative Spirituality Volume 2: Human Formation pg. 99)
Dispositions are the habits of our life and heart. Some might even say that our dispositions define us. Here van Kaam makes a distinction between transcendent dispositions, or the “more than” part of who we are, and the functional dispositions, or the “what we do” part of who we are.
When we are focused on functional dispositions our lives are about what we do. We equate our worth with how much we produce, create, or accomplish. This mode of life is prevalent in our culture. When we meet someone we want to know what they “do for a living.” They want to know the same about us. What we do defines us. As we continue to live in this mode we begin to believe that we are what we do. We receive our sense of worth from what we do and we measure our worth in the same way. If we get done with the day and haven’t been able to accomplish what we set out to accomplish, we feel bad. After a day of hard work where we have accomplished much, we feel good about ourselves.
Van Kaam points out there is a danger when the whole of our existence is formed by these functional dispositions. It causes us to begin to measure ourselves and compare ourselves to others. In order to feel good we begin to compare ourselves with others and believe we are in competition with them. Van Kaam says this competitive attitude creates strife and fragments our life. Functionalistic cultures, he says, create this type of atmosphere and then suffer from a variety of disorders created from the pollution of glandular chemical overdoses. Our attitudes can and do effect our bodies. We have all experienced how anger causes our blood pressure to rise and how fear and worry can even cause us to become sick. Over a period of time these bodily reactions can work their way into cultural experience. It is no wonder why North America even with all its wealth is one of the most depressed cultures on the planet.
As long as we are imprisoned by functional dispositions, we cannot be at peace. Peace comes when we realized that we are “more than” what we do. There is a transcendent dimension to humanity. God created us in God’s image. That image is still within us, but will not be realized by functional dispositions or living. The only way to realize the image God has placed within us is to be open and receptive to the “unfolding transcendent dispositions” in each moment of our lives.
Formative Spirituality teaches that God invites us to discover who we have been created to be. Each moment is an invitation and opportunity to discover the unfolding form for which we were created. This is a mystery; a mystery we must trust. We trust that God is good and every moment in our life is there so we might become who we were created to be. This does not happen when our lives are focused on how much we can do, accomplish, or produce. It can happen when we are open and receptive to the unfolding events, good or bad, that we encounter. This is how I understand van Kaam’s reference to “the unfolding transcendent dispositions.” As we allow transcendent dispositions to unfold in our lives, we discover peace. We find that the fragmentation and dissonance that once defined our lives are slowly fading away. Little by little we are being released and freed to be who we are created to be.