The New Life and Detachment


I started this once before and the mercy of the thunderstorm spared you its first incarnation. Therefore, you'll have to suffer with this one--at best a poor recreation of the sterling brilliance of both exposition and prose that was my first post. Oh well.

I was thinking. (Stop that! I heard that long drawn sigh. I know I should listen to the words my Grandpappy never said, "Son, before you set out on a mission, you oughta be sure you got the equipment to finish it.") All of your objections aside--it does happen, equipped or otherwise. It occurred to me that in the canons of Carmelite thought there is little (perhaps nothing) so terrifying as St. John of the Cross's insistence upon the necessity of detachment for the proper cultivation of and advancement in true Christian prayer life. The reactions to this pronouncement vary from--"I'm not a Carmelite, what does that have to do with me?" To, "I'd rather lick the driveway clean."

Even most Carmelites try to dodge the teaching. "After all, Detachment is a means, not an end in itself. So I'll just sit over here and do my own thing until detachment comes along and slaps me upside the head." And so they live their lives, completely undetached and nearly perfectly indifferent and unaware of the fact.

Now, detachment isn't going to come along and knock you upside the head. It isn't going to happen overnight. And, honestly, it is continuous, very hard work. So why do it? Well, basically because St. John of the Cross was right, and the thunk I had this afternoon is a stab at trying to show why.

A few weeks back I wrote an entry on Jesus's proclamation, "Behold, I make all things new." All things--everything--that includes us. How can we be new if we are still doing everything we did before? How can we be new if we are completely ingrained in habit? How can Jesus recreate each one of us if we steadfastly refuse to be recreated?

Detachment is our part of the work (aided by grace, of course) that complements the power of Jesus's resurrection. He raises us to new life, and we cooperate with the help of the graces of God by allowing ourselves to be changed.

John of the Cross advises that when we are faced with a choice, we should always choose the thing we like the least. This habit is an aid to becoming detached. It is also an aid to becoming new. When faced with choices, many of us prefer to take the better known route, or the thing we like better. Why do we like it better? Most often because we know it better. The path is clearer and our knowledge of how to navigate it extensive. Or perhaps because we just don't like to try new things.

If we choose what we presently like less, we may find in it certain hardships and graces that do not come from choosing what we know and love. We will nearly always find in it a challenge to grow in love. When we choose the lesser-known path we are learning to surrender bit-by-bit. And we are opening ourselves up to being changed.

Before you first volunteered to work the Sunday Donut line or help out in the distribution of food to those in need in the parish, you probably didn't think that it was anything you particularly wanted to do. And yet, as you grew into it, you may have discovered hidden graces and surprises. "There's joy in them there tasks!" Our lives should be lives of increasing en-joy-ment--not in the sense of entertainment, but rather in growing in an understanding and participation in God's Kingdom on Earth.

When we're asked to do one thing or another for the Parish most of us can think of ten-thousand reasons why we can't or ten-thousand things we'd rather be doing. And yet, if we surrendered just a little bit of ourselves. . .

That little bit of surrender gives Jesus room to get in, move the furniture around a bit and readjust our lives. It gives Him the ability to recreate us, to make us new. And it gives us a chance to experience joy. In detachment, in the deliberate choice of the less appealing of two licit options, we open a gateway to God. By not putting ourselves or what we want first, we begin to see things in a different light.

All habits, even the very best of them tend to create calluses. If we jog every night and run the same route because we know its length, we miss out on what we might see by running a different route. If we read the same kinds of books, we miss out on the huge variety of things available to all to read. When we serve ourselves, we eventually bury ourselves in our habits--wearing a rut too deep and too wide to emerge from.

But Jesus promised, "Behold, I make all things new." Every day provides the grace for beginning the transformation into the new person Jesus wants us to be. Detachment--leaving the old and known behind and choosing the new, different, and difficult--allow Jesus the space and the material to start forming us in the image He sees in us. It is slow. Sometimes it is difficult. But ultimately it will lead to our transformation and the transformation of all the world. God works with us, in us, and through us--He recreates us.

Jesus Himself said, "Cursed be the man who sets hand to plow and looks back--he is not worthy of the kingdom of God." Another hard saying was that we had to leaven Father and Mother, brother and sister, wife and children and follow Him. What does that mean? We are to abandon our responsibilities? No, rather, it is that we must abandon our old selves, our old habits, our old choices, our old ways of doing things and trust solely in his.

And back to the point of all of this--detachment is the discipline that instructs us in how to do this. Detachment is a means of letting go and allowing God to transform us. It isn't the dour, frightening, horrible thing we make it out to be. But too often we hate it because it does demand something of us--it does demand that we change and we make room for God.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 14, 2005 7:57 PM.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was the previous entry in this blog.

Dance of Death is the next entry in this blog.

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