In my first, second, and third posts, I claimed that the mindfulness-based behavioral therapy Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps one be better at loving, living virtuously, and being joyful. I’d like to end this series by suggesting how it might help one live the good life as Christians understand it. While I’m interested in specifically Christian language, I hope that much of this is accessible even to others who might like to use mindfulness to live well.

Bernard Lonergan and his followers are fond of understanding the Holy Spirit as the Eternal Listening to the Word. This is a fitting way to think of the Christian spiritual life, as a life in the Spirit of listening to what God’s intelligent will is in our lives. The mindfulness that ACT promotes can be thought of as a way of life, a mindset of attentive listening, of accepting the present moment of God’s Creation and being open to calls to be co-creators through vocation and valued living. Mindfulness cultivates the skill of noticing with openness to whatever is true, good, and beautiful. This life of listening in the Spirit is the life of grace, the life of living in response to the love of God. The mindfulness/acceptance side of ACT encourages us to cultivate a spirit of gratitude for God’s love, while the commitment/valued action side of ACT encourages us to respond generously to God’s love. To return to the work of Lonergan’s student Frederick Crowe, the Christian life is one of complacency in the good that already exists and concern for the good that I might bring about.

Of course, accepting the universe that already exists means accepting a universe in which people choose what is not choiceworthy, but gratitude for what is does not mean turning a blind eye to evil. Moral evils are worthy of rejection, but the mindful person learns to accept gratefully even a world that includes such evils. God wills a universe of freedom, and Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, responds to evil by bringing good to the situation, as death gives way to resurrection. Such is the paradigm of Christian discipleship: following Jesus’s life of love, his life of accepting the universe as it is (gratitude) and bringing good to and out of the evils of the world (generosity). As Greg Boyle’s work with gang members in Los Angeles shows, it means gratefully accepting sinners and generously loving them into a new way of life instead of judgmentally disregarding them. It means accepting the fact that horrendous acts of evil such as senseless gun violence have occurred but responding with attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible action. This is what Lonergan calls the “law of the cross,” the bringing of good out of evil, and ACT can help one live it.

The mindful acceptance of ACT helps one approach the world and individuals with a spirit of gratefulness, non-judgment, and compassion, while the commitment/valued action aspect of ACT encourages us to discern loving responses to the evils perpetrated in the world by such individuals. Through mindful, valued living, we are gifted with a participation in Christ’s redemptive work. This is the Christian spiritual life of both (grateful) contemplation and (generous) action on behalf of justice.

In sum, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy provides a way to implement the life of love that is the good life, whether or not one understands it in explicitly Christian terms. The life of love is the end, and the strategies of ACT may provide means to that end. (Again, see The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, as well as the work of Susan Orsillo and Lizabeth Roemer; for Christianity’s own “mindfulness” tradition, see the work of Martin Laird.) However difficult to accomplish, the practical take-home of all this is simply put: discern the values worth living for, take action in pursuit of these values, and cultivate mindful gratitude for what happens along the way.

The views expressed in this essay belong entirely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Lonergan Institute staff or the values of Boston College.