Conversatio Divina

Part 16 of 16

Two Operating Systems

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Gary W. Moon

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for me will save it. Luke 9:24 (NIVScripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™. All rights reserved.)

I have a tendency to oversimplify things. Some people say I’m a compulsive summarizer. So with those two confessions out of the way, I want to—no, I have to—summarize a couple of things that relate to this issue of Conversations.

First, I believe that a primary reason for one of the darkest times in Church history (the first church split—1054 A.D.; over one thousand years after Jesus prayed, “May they be one, Father . . .”) was the two competing operating systems that dominated Christian thought at the time: the Greek East and the Latin West.

While I’m aware that geographic, political, and linguistic strains had been fraying the connective tissue of the body of Christ for centuries; I believe the Great Schism was also a result of two very different approaches for processing theology. The Eastern mind-set seems more like a Mac computer. The West used PCs.

Now of course, they didn’t really use computers; neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates had been invented yet. What I am trying to say is that the Eastern way of viewing God seemed more at home with user-friendly icons and featured a simpler, big-picture focus. Not to mention, the color graphics pack-age was out of this world.

By contrast, the MS-DOS system of the West had a penchant for capturing spiritual things using an Excel spreadsheet type of approach. The Western church seemed to employ more of a logical, left-brain method for systematizing God. The tragedy—it occurs to me as I type these words using Microsoft software for my Apple computer—is that putting both together would have been much better.

What does that have to do with this issue of Conversations? I recently discovered that I have a major problem with the operating system of my soul—and now I’m talking about something much more fundamental than Mac vs. PC. In spite of all the spiritual reading, thinking, and writing I’ve been doing for more than two decades, it recently became painfully clear that I continue to run much of my life using an “egoic” operating system (EOS), instead of a “unitive” operating system (UOS). Let me explain.

A couple of months ago, as part of a course I’m taking on Ignatian Spirituality, I traveled to Mobile, Alabama, and checked into the dormitory of a Jesuit college for a five-day, mostly silent retreat. The first morning I met with my spiritual director. He is a very likable fellow who speaks five languages—mercifully not at the same time—and has a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Rome.

After some pleasantries were exchanged, he announced that the theme for the first day was “gratitude,” to which I thought—but did not say—Oh, great. This is right up there with “self-esteem” on my list of ten truisms I believe to be important but not worth any of my waking moments—not to mention a whole day—for reflection.

For the following twenty-three hours I struggled with the assignment. When I reported in the next morning, I was very honest. I told him that while I had a pretty easy time feeling gratitude to others, it was very difficult for me to “get in touch” with deep feelings of gratitude toward God. I was surprised to hear myself saying this and even more surprised when he politely offered, “Ingratitude is the most offensive sin in the universe.” And then he gave me a detailed article to prove it.

For the rest of the retreat I spent my time thinking about why it was so difficult for me to feel a deep and daily fountain of gratitude toward God. I came to many helpful conclusions including (to list but a few) that in the back of my mind I must have some borderline deistic views of God still stored away. I also discovered that, in practical matters, I often continue to act as if I’m alone and separate—as opposed to “with God” and united—and that if tough things are to get done, then it’s mostly up to me to make it happen.

While I perceive God to be looking on, occasionally nodding approval, when the task is scratched off my “to do” list, I’m more likely to feel pride in accomplishment than to feel a true sense of gratitude to God.

During the days that followed, long periods of quiet, contemplative prayer contained internal hints of confirmation. And there seemed to be a real sense of an internal shift—in ways I thought had already shifted. I began to see creation, for example, much more as an ongoing, moment-by-moment, in-the-present event brought about by a loving, active, and involved God—as opposed to something isolated and confined by a period of time in the distant past. And as I prayed for a deeper experience of gratitude for God, it was as if my experience of Him being with me each moment (keeping me alive, continuing to create life and experience all around me) grew dramatically. Before the retreat was over, I had begun to feel a deep sense of gratitude for being continually sustained and for being loved.

It was then I realized that I was primarily using an “egoic” operating system (EOS) instead of a “unitive” operating system (UOS).I discovered later that my spiritual director had been reading some helpful books by Cynthia Bourgeault (The Wisdom Way of Knowing) and Richard Rohr (Everything Belongs). My egoic system is very seductive. It allows me to be self-focused, in charge, the prime mover and principal source of power in my life. By contrast, in the unitive system that I experienced for tantalizing moments, I was able to step back from my ego and rest in not being in charge and the center of the universe. Instead I felt somewhat separate from my ego, caught up in the love and presence of God.

David G. Benner defines contemplative prayer this way: “Wordless, trusting openness to God, who dwells at the center of our being and at the center of the world. It is the opening of our body, mind and heart to the Ultimate Mystery who cannot be captured by either words or thoughts, but in whom we dwell and who dwells in us.”See David G. Benner, Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021), 127. That resonates with those moments of contemplative awareness I experienced that allowed me to rest “with God” in love, while observing a wholly different operating system.

In contemplation one can become more aware of the destructive role ego plays in our lives and how, in fact, ego may be synonymous with what the Apostle Paul calls “the flesh.”

In this issue of Conversations Richard Rohr echoes this same conclusion:

The ego/“self” that has to die is that autonomous, controlling, self-sufficient part of us that inherently wars against both soul and Spirit and hates all change, just as Paul says (e.g. Galatians 5:16–20). It wants to be the whole show. . . . there is an ego self that avoids communion, change, and death at all costs.

So, by way of compulsive summary, maybe a change from an EOS to an UOS is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple,” and “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”See Luke 14:27; 9:24, NIV. Maybe these two operating systems are as fundamental as the two trees in the garden. I don’t know. But I do know that contemplation can reveal a person’s core operating system and the deep motivation for our actions. I am grateful, and hopeful that the great schism in my own soul can be mended.

01.  Paraphrase of the Ignatian Prayer of Surrender

Take, Father, and receive
All of my freedom,
all of my memories,
All of my understanding,
My entire will.

Everything I have
Is from you.
Now I gladly give it back.
Do with it as you wish.

My only request is to
experience your
grace and love.
With these I am rich
beyond measure
And I shall not want.


Gary W. Moon, vice president and chair of integration at Richmont Graduate university, founded (with David Benner and Larry Crabb) Conversations Journal, directs the international Renovaré institute for Christian spiritual formation and has authored several books, including his most recent, Apprenticeship With Jesus: Learning to Live like the Master (Baker).