The Gracious Art of Detachment

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I stumbled across this passage in a new book obtained from Amazon the other day.

from Ascent to Love: The Spiritual Teaching of St. John of the Cross
Ruth Burrows

We have an innate drive to seek our own perfection with the dimensions of what we understand and consciously experience. We think we know what we need for our well-being and happiness and demand this of life. This is very marked today when greater opportunities are available. We say we must feel fulfilled, that we have a right to this or that because we need it for our fulfilment. We must not be diminished or feel frustrated in our desires. But the truth is that we do not know what human fulfilment is. We can neither conceive of it nor the path to it except in Jesus and him crucified. To seek what we think is fulfilment, making it our sole aim and subordinating other people and things to our own needs is to lose our way. We must allow God to bring us to the fulfillment he has made us for, by a way that is infallible because it is his way for us. We must be brought to dispossession, emptiness, formlessness. A dreadful prospect? Does not this spell death to a human being? Paradoxically, no, it is the other side of the plenitude of life. It is to enter into him who is all, to be filled by the all.

The detached heart has a far greater joy and comfort in created realities, for to treat them possessively is to lose all joy in them. . . . The whole created world is illumined and seen for what it is in a way the selfish heart can never know. The unselfish heart alone knows the joy of pure love for others. The more another is loved, the more God is loved.

In the past, I have written of detachment and sometimes I have to keep a clear focus on the fact that detachment is not an end in itself, but a means to the only End worthy of consideration. But here, for me, there was a breath of the truth, another confirmation of what I know instinctively. Detachment is not the rejection of created things, but the proper valuing of created things in subordination to the love of the Creator of All. In this proper alignment of values, created things become all the more wonderful and real because we can allow them to be without having to have some sort of control over them or possession of them.

How many relationships would be healed if we stopped the endless need to impose our own will on others? How many people would come to love more and to follow Jesus more closely if they were to abandon their own ways and to take up his? In every disagreement, in every quarrel, in every negative human interaction, the predominant element is the need of one person to express him or herself through the control of another. And the one being controlled lashes out in response to this attempt at possession. But if we belong only to God, we would not have to lash out against those who would possess us because we know clearly to whom we belong.

If we seek Him in love, all other things will not fall away, but they will fall into place. He is the keystone of the arch, the anchor of the edifice. If God is at the center everything holds together. If anything else, "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." Only in God will my soul be at rest--in Him is my hope, my salvation (in the language of the psalms). Detachment is a secondary means to an end and it is achieved by focus on the primary means--love of God above all things.

But this doesn't mean that detachment is something easy to come by and simply acted upon. It is not. It takes a grace-strengthened act of will to resist the lure of possession. From the beginning we seek to possess, because possession seems to fill the aching void within. But the only possession that really fills that void is, paradoxically, being possessed, not ourselves owning anything, but being owned, redeemed, notably His. "Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm." We need to wear His insignia, His band upon our arms. In this we are enslaved to all and completely free. The words make no sense at all, and yet I think we understand the reality they express at some very deep level.

And (is it because of the fall?) every fiber of our being resists this possession. We seek to identify ourselves and make ourselves known to the world at large. But our only identity is in Christ, our only meaning in God. Outside of Him nothing we do, say, or have has any substance. The more we own, the more that owns us, and the more the gnawing, all consuming hunger drives us to acquire yet more.

Detachment which comes through Love of God and graced acts of will places us in the seat of greatest joy. We need not own anything and nothing owns us except Him who is entitled. How can this reality not appeal? How can moving closer to all and away from the nothingness of everyday desire not be the burning drive of our hearts? I don't know, but too often it is so. As for me, I pray it cease as soon as it can. I would like to say with Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." And I cannot so long as I am busy serving myself

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Thanks for this beautiful post, Steven. I've been thinking about it all day. I realize more and more lately how my selfish inclination to have my own way in all things may lead me to view persons as things to be used, instead of as brothers and sisters to be cherished.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 4, 2005 8:19 AM.

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