The Dangers of Attachment to


The Dangers of Attachment to Very Good Things

The preceding discussion of tide pools was meant to launch this little column because I intend to present one of the harder aspects of St. John of the Cross's teachings. One thing John points out is that there are very real, substantive, spiritual goods to which people become attached and which, as a result, hinder such people from growing closer to God. I thought I'd share a real example from my own life that chronicles an on-going struggle, as well as a partially resolved struggle.

At one time I was approached by a local apologetics group to consider joining them in their mission. This was appealing in a number of ways. First, it was flattering that someone would seek my membership in anything (vanity). Second, I like to argue. No, let's not say argue, as many take that the wrong way, I like to reason, to bump up ideas against one another and see what happens. That said, I also like to swap sides in any debate or discussion at a moment's notice and argue the other side (hardly helpful in apologetics). Third, I thought that it would provide me with, as Saint Paul enjoins, the ability, "to give reasons for the joy you know." (probably misquoting, but you know what I'm talking about.)

What I did not take into account is the very real dangers of preparing for apologetics. Everyone should be ready to defend the Gospel and the Church, but not everyone should necessarily defend it in the forum of apologetics. Within the group that invited me, I saw a number of twisted, bitter, inflexible, angry people who saw in every action and every word the deliberate deconstruction of the Church they loved. Holding hands during the Our Father was second only to the Modernist Heresy in the evils of the modern Church. (Frankly, while it may be an issue--I find dissenting Priests and Bishops, Nuns for Choice, and other difficulties far more pressing and far more in urgent need of rectification than holding hands.) In addition, the question of apologetics appealed very strongly to my intellect. While that might seem a good thing, I came to realize that, for me, it was, in fact, a very bad thing.

Let me digress for a moment here to talk about my decision to become a Carmelite. I had a very good friend who was a Benedictine Oblate. When I told her about this desire she said to me, "Carmelites are all heart and no head, you need to join something like the Dominicans or the Benedictines." At the time, I did not recognize the error of the statement, and accepted it at face value. God, in fact, used it to confirm my vocation, because when she said that, my immediate response was, "God is entirely in my head, I need for Him to trickle down to my Heart and change it." The Carmelites, if they were all heart, was precisely where I belonged. So as not to needlessly lengthen this digression, which has as its point that last sentence, I will perhaps talk about the error implicit in the statement at another time.

Apologetics had the same appeal. I tend to be very much in my head all the time. Apologetics feeds the head of certain types of individuals. That is why I believe the act of apologetics is a very real vocation, as much as is a Carmelite vocation. To properly do apologetics, there must be a very strong, established pathway between head and heart. One must be much as Aquinas, living in the head automatically and expansively feeds the heart that loves God. Not so for me. Feeding the head served to make me more distant from God. The more I know about God the less I tend to practice any practical love for Him, assuming that the practice consists in knowing of Him. It is ironic. But I am not Augustine or Aquinas, and my model for faith really needs to be a Therese or a Bernadette. Therese was highly intelligent and capable, but her faith and approach to God was very simple and deliberate. Bernadette was not gifted intellectually, but her faith was a brilliant, shining jewel of child-like simplicity. Those had to be my models. Thus, for me, apologetics was a dangerous path and a dangerous attachment. Now, I sit and marvel at the wonderful spun-glass texture of the arguments and intricacies of apologetics, but I sit amazed as a spectator at the construction, not as a participant.

However, I haven't entirely escaped the danger. One thing I truly love are commentary and "apologetics" Bibles. The new Ignatius version of the Gospels that are coming out, the IVP Commentary on Scripture, the Navarre, etc. What happens to me when I read such a Bible is that I grow exceedingly distant from God. I move from knowing Him to knowing about Him. I suddenly know all sorts of facts about words and about how Ancient Hebrews viewed certain things, and about what the Church Fathers thought about certain passages of Scripture. What I don't know is what God wants ME to see in scripture. My indulgence in these very good things, my attachment to these readings, prevents me from entering into real prayer. Scripture no longer is a vehicle for entering into prayer, it is an elaborate complex of semantic games, archaeological discussions, historical-critical methods, and any number of other pieces of scholarly folderol that serve only to keep me from the core of what I should be doing. That said, I have to say that there are many of substantially different personality who may be able to integrate these things seamlessly into a glorious and beautiful faith-life. Not so for me, because I view the whole as a sort of game and a kind of intellectual play. This very good thing, and my attachment to it, keeps me from God.

Now, I recognize this problem, and so, I must wean myself from my reliance on these things and get back to the word. Yes, having been through this will help to contextualize the word, and perhaps make Lectio more fruitful, but it has also served as a check on knowing and loving God as I should.

I present this story simply to give everyone cause for reflection and realization, and also to make more concrete what St. John of the Cross means when he talks about the ability of very good spiritual practices to hamper our access to God. We can let the lesser good obscure our view of the greater. In fact, almost all of us do. It is very important to see what practices, books, thoughts, deeds, objects, people, or events serve to distract us most from serving God.

At the present time, blogging has served to deepen my faith life. I find that to explain what I believe I must analyze it carefully and subject it to the greater light of prayer. I need to understand my vocation to tell others about it. But when blogging becomes a blockade to union with God, when it no longer helps me strengthen my faith or deepen my love of God, it will have to go. Blogging often serves as a time of deep thought and deep prayer, and writing to you, whoever my readers may be, allows God to speak to me, as He has done in this very blog.

My prayer is that all of this writing may help each person who reads it to come to a deeper love and understanding of God and a closer walk with Jesus Christ. I hope that it serves as an "apologetics" of life and helps everyone to clarify their individual callings and aspirations. Further, may it serve also as an aid to an examen that will allow each person conducting it a closer more intimate relationship with God. I know those are high aspirations, but those same aspirations serve to guide what is shared here from day to day. May you who read this benefit as greatly as the writer. But most of all, may God be praised and brought forward in every mind, may He be present in every heart, may He be heard on every tongue, and may every life glorify Him, Father, Son , and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 19, 2002 8:13 AM.

Being a Tidepool There are was the previous entry in this blog.

Temporary Removal Removed So that is the next entry in this blog.

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