|Fisher Theater, Detroit|
The "fruit of the Spirit" is noncircumstantial (Galatians 5:22-23). That is, the heart-conditions of being at peace, being kind, being joyful, and so on, are independent of your life circumstances. Otherwise love, peace, patience, kindness, and so on, rise or fall depending on one's circumstances. The real thing, if it exists at all, must be something unattached to the vicissitudes of life.
True contentment, as well, is noncircumstantial. We see this in Paul, who wrote:
"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)
I want to learn that secret! It is not yet my full possession, but it is my desire. To possess it is to be free. Out of such freedom, we are able to love and live.
How is true contentment attained? Contentment is a function of connectedness. Contentment increases as I am attached, branchlike, to Jesus, who is Vinelike.
Any other answer to human flourishing is foolish. This is important to understand in the midst of our materialist, entertainment, consumer culture. Thomas Merton writes:
"If we are fools enough to remain at the mercy of people who want to sell us happiness, it will be impossible for us ever to be content with anything. How would they profit if we became content? We would no longer need their new product. The last thing the salesman wants is for the buyer to become content. You are no use in our affluent society unless you are always about to grasp what you never have." (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 84)
Our culture mitigates against contentment. It thrives on perpetual human discontentedness.
True contentment requires an a-cultural stance that is circumstance-free.