I tend to think that what a person (or anything really) does is a better indication of who that person is than what one believes. The actions that a person – or an object, or an animal –engages in are more evident of their character than what they might believe. For instance, a person might profess to hate a type of candy, but if they continuously go back to the bowl for more candy it might show that they really desire it.
Furthermore, while it is often posited that beliefs shape action, I’m of the opinion that this relationship is more cyclical. Our actions are just as likely to shape our beliefs as our beliefs are to shape our actions. For example, reading can lead to a desire for reading, which might shape ones believe to think that reading is good. My belief in this is partially because I assume a voluntarist understanding of action. Voluntarism prioritizes the will over the intellect in terms of decision making. Actions do not develop through conscious belief, but through the power of the will. Voluntarism, on a theological level, can be traced back to Duns Scotus (a medieval theologian of univocity), and in philosophy, flows through the disparate philosophical tradition of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud.
Because of this, I believe that the habits that one engages in are fundamental in shaping how one behaves and lives. Habits are actions that become ingrained into one to the degree that they become second nature. The traditions that we partake in have the ability to become habitual. The ways that one might worship in church, for instance, have the ability to become a part of a person on a level deeper than intellectual belief. The liturgical elements have the potential to become a part of a person, resulting in unconscious action. Thus, when engaging in the liturgy, the actions can take place without conscious effort; the actions simply happen.
Using this as a background, I find myself in an interesting stage of my life. It is the first year that my partner and I are truly “on our own” after getting married this summer. Both of us have come from families and communities where the season of Advent is filled with tradition and habit. Thus, this season presents us with the opportunity to begin to shape and form our own traditions and habits relating to the season. This is a daunting task. While our traditions and habits will shift and shape over the years due to numerous factors, it is both exhilarating and terrifying that the habits and traditions that we begin today have the potential to shape not only what we do in the future, but who we are as people and a couple. The traditions and habits that we begin this advent season have the potential to play a huge role in our future.
So far, many of our traditions have been borrowed from our familial traditions. This seems like a likely avenue for adopting tradition. The habits from our past have already been ingrained into us, so we continue to follow those traditions which are already unconscious in our being. I think that it would be interesting to go and analyze the traditions which we have adopted, and which are neglected. Why do some traditions become ingrained into us, while others fall to the wayside? These will be questions that my partner and I will grapple with when trying to form habits around our own traditions both this year, and in the future. How can we develop habits and traditions that allow us to become the people we wish to become?