Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The value of detachment

"In a materialistic age which tends to relegate spiritual values to an unimportant or inferior plane, it would seem worthwhile to study these values, or one concept of them, in the life and writings of a man who is regarded as both a Christian saint and a master of classical literature. St John of the Cross can be read purely for the beauty of his poetry and prose; yet to ignore the philosophy and ideals which they serve to convey would also be to miss much of their beauty. They have life, and still live, because much of his own inner spirit is contained within them.

Among the many aspects of the spiritual life, desprendimiento (detachment) is one which today is particularly rejected, and often misunderstood. Man seeks to acquire and to gain; not to give away and become free. To understand St John of the Cross' teaching, therefore, and the generally accepted view that his spirituality is negative, it is necessary to understand the positive side, and to see why he stressed continually the need to renounce material things, or at least, the attachment to them. The fulness of his writings is then revealed, and the richness of his poetry better understood. Above all, an integration is seen between life and art; and how, in one man at least, they both played an integral part."

-- St John of the Cross & Detachment by Glenys Edwards


In religious life, I encountered people who were "turned off" by St John of the Cross' insistence on detachment and the nada nada nada; and also those who were lured by his romantic expressions, more than his message. Holy Father John of the Cross is a master of the spiritual life that teaches us how, by detaching ourselves from creatures and objects, we can attain union with God, the creator of all things. By emptying ourselves, our hearts, we make space for God to dwell in us, to fill us with His love and grace.

If you haven't read John of the Cross' writings yet, I highly recommend them to you. The two better known English translations are those by E. Allison Peers and that of Frs Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodríguez. Peers' translation is more literal, and, thus, may be more difficult to follow for modern readers. Kavanaugh and Rodríguez's translation is more dynamic and easier to follow. Nothing beats the original Spanish, but, quite honestly, either translation works.

If you don't know where to start, my spiritual director (a discalced carmelite friar) suggested that I read the main works in the following order: Spiritual Canticle, Ascent, Dark Night and Living Flame of Love. Read the introductions. St John of the Cross wrote using many symbolisms drawn from Scripture. The Counsels and Sayings of Light and Love may be read any time, over and over. Be patient with the texts and do not attempt to read the main works in one day or even one week. The texts are so rich that one needs to "digest" them very slowly, and re-read the texts. Don't cheat yourself from a fantastic spiritual read.


Anne said...

Thank you for these suggestions Sister. Detachment from people is my number one struggle, I could care less about things. But people. My clingy, needy personality drags me down and keeps me from God. Perhaps I will find some help in the words of St. John of the Cross.

Rebecca said...

Very good suggestions for reading St. John of the Cross. My spiritual director at the time I was beginning to read St. John of the Cross suggested that I pray, each time before I began to read, asking the Holy Spirit to help me to read and understand that which I am about to read. I found it helped also to ask St. John of the Cross for help through his intercession as well.

ocd sister said...

Are you sure you are a "clingy" and not a very friendly person? God works with all of us, our personalities and inclinations to bring about transformation and holiness. St Francis de Sales teaches us that a bishop cannot be desiring for the solitude of the cloister, nor a monk for the preaching activities of the bishop, etc. We're called to be holy and help others grow in holiness in our current state in life - whether single, married, widowed, with children, etc. If indeed you are clingy, I suggest you read the Ascent of Mt Carmel by John of the Cross. The road to purification and union with God is not a short nor an easy one. It takes time, patience, openness to change, perseverance... It is good to cherish friendships and wanting to help others, that's part of the virtue of charity. But we must do so with an open heart, with that interior freedom that allows us to love all in God, because He is the one that dwells within us, and not His creatures, and we love with Him and through Him. We're all called to love and help one another to grow in virtue and holiness, but we can only do this if we are devoid of creatures and let God reign and dwell within us. That's why St John of the Cross stresses detachment and the "nada, nada, nada" - so we may have the space, the interior freedom to let God dwell within us and act through us. Don't be so hard on yourself, either!

Rebecca, you're absolutely right. And more so when it comes to reading Scripture. We should always ask the Holy Spirit to open our minds and heart to whatever message God wants us to receive at that particular moment of our lives.

Please pray for me.