22 September 2009

Question on a Post on Detachment

[[Would you develop on your your meaning of the following extract from your paper on Detachment in July 2008, please?

Quoting St Paul you state that everything does work for good for those who love God (i.e. those who let themselves be loved by God) italics are yours. Letting oneself be loved by God or anyone is a life-long journey and struggle (in my experience) unless one has known the secure love of a parent or some significant other in early life. Your piece implies that only if we are confident enough to surrender to Infinite Love (God) will our lives and our stuff be resolved satisfactorily. But I feel certain that you mean something other than this interpetation of mine and I'd be very glad to hear what you had in mind when you wrote that paper.]]

Hi there. Thanks for the question. In that post I reprised both a definition and a poem my pastor used for a homily, and I made two main, but related points: 1) that detachment is first of all about appropriate attachment and only secondarily about the stripping away of inappropriate or less worthy attachments --- though the reality assuredly involves both, and 2) that if one can just allow God to love them (a central sense of what it really means to love God -- selfish as that might first sound), then all things will work towards good in one's life (another way of saying everything will fall into place). The definition of what I called detachment was, "having found a love so great that everything else falls into place," and the poem, which illustrated this, I thought, was from a confederate civil war soldier and read as follows:

[[I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked God for health, that I might do great things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for
- but everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among men, most richly blessed.]]

At the time of that homily I found myself fingering my final (eremitical) profession ring with its motto: "My power is made perfect in weakness," and knowing that what this soldier described was the truth in my life as well. In particular what I have come to know is that if we allow God to love us, and if we act in and from that love, our lives will begin to make an almost infinite kind of sense and be fruitful in ways we never imagined (or prayed for!). But I certainly don't mean to suggest that allowing God to love us, and coming to see ourselves as God does (good, precious, loveable despite our brokenness and sin, and full of infinite promise despite these things as well) is something easy or quickly achieved. As you note yourself, it is a lifelong journey --- but also one that has stages or signposts including a fundamental if vestigial acceptance of God's love for us, even as that fundamental acceptance continues to grow the remainder of the journey.

Faith is a matter of trust. We entrust ourselves to God. We trust that what God says about us in the Scriptures and through the Christ Event especially is the truth. We trust that if we learn to see ourselves as God does (even as impaired as our vision still is), we have come to see ourselves rightly. And we trust that if we are able to behave as people who know ourselves in this way, our lives will be fruitful rather than barren in the ways Christ's was fruitful, in the ways Mary's and the Saints were fruitful, in the ways Elizabeth's and so many women throughout Jewish-Christian history's lives were fruitful. Finally, we trust that even in the face of life's meaninglessness, cruelty, betrayals (our own as well as others'), and other evil (none of which God wills!), our God wills to and is capable of bringing good out of all this. Even when we cannot quite believe any of this, faith can involve an acting as if it is true --- and if we can, with the grace of God, do just that much, we will find in time that the risk was worth it and the truth was as we hoped in the deepest parts of ourselves it would be.

But everything depends on allowing God to love us ever more deeply and completely and living from and in light of that love. Everything depends on entrusting ourselves to this love despite everything we have been taught (and often mistaught!) by others about such things. You write, [[Your piece implies that only if we are confident enough to surrender to Infinite Love (God) will our lives and our stuff be resolved satisfactorily.]] Partly. Let me give you an example which may clarify my point.

Let's say that a person is abused as a child and the result of that abuse is a kind of crippling of the potential of her life. She will, if she is able and motivated, spend a lot of time healing from the abuse and that means that this is time that might have been spent otherwise. One of the things which can aid this healing greatly besides the consistency of a good therapist is the conviction that God loves us no matter what, and that we need do nothing at all to earn this love. The fact of God's love does not take away the abuse or its effects, nor does it eliminate the need to heal and grow beyond all of this, but it CAN allow a person's weakness and brokenness to become a sign of God's powerful love --- a love which can bring good out of even the tragedies of early life. God's love does not wipe away the past, for instance, but it does create a future where perhaps it seemed like there really was none.

Similarly, let's say a person is chronically ill and this also cripples her life in many ways. She will spend a great deal of time coming to terms with all the ways her dreams cannot be met or achieved. But, if she can allow God to love her as she is and without a need to make herself acceptable to God, then what she is apt to find is that God's love will bring life out of death here and again, make of her life something of almost infinite worth. Worth is not calculated in terms so precious to the world: productivity, competitiveness, and the like, but instead in terms of what God says is true about us --- how truly good and precious and lovable we are to him! When we come to accept this basic truth (and commit to allowing it to be more and more the guiding truth of our lives) we will find that in our lives all things will work for the good. All things will serve to witness to that essential life and sense-making truth, and this will be true no matter the evil that befalls us because it is a love which transcends these things.

I hope this helps a little. If I haven't quite caught your question or objection please get back to me.