“Detachment is an overwhelming attachment to God” – Mother Angelica
How does one appreciate and love the people and things of this world without becoming attached? Detachment is sometimes described as “rightly ordered desires,” that is desiring God first and then other things in proper proportion, being willing to give them up if that is what God asks of us. But what of having to give them up just because that is the way this world works? What if rather than clearly needing to forgo some worldly good for the better good God is calling you to, there doesn’t seem to be any “benefit” in losing something or someone? Perhaps this is where redemptive suffering comes in (but that is a topic for another day) or it just illustrates the how fallen the world is.
God created for us a world full of goodness and beauty and urged us in his Word to contemplate all that is good, true, and beautiful (Philippians 4:8). In this broken world, perhaps only Truth in its transcendent absolute form has a chance at permanence, but even those who love and seek it are sometimes deceived or have difficulty discerning it. We are designed to appreciate and be drawn to that which is good and beautiful, but those things are often destroyed. Every lovely thing in this world eventually ends, and despite our desires to the contrary, nothing lasts forever.
We are designed to seek community and to love other people, but other people let us down, they aren’t there for us when we most need them, even those who do love us often fail to love us well. Friendships fail. People die. Truly we are alone. And it hurts because it should not be so. We were not created for isolation, sorrow, pain.
The natural beauty of God’s creation can inspire wonder and awe in us, both in its wilder and more cultivated forms. When we encounter a beautiful place, we do not want it to change, not ever. We feel this even more strongly when the place has a special hold on our affections because of its association with fond memories. Alas, Nature often destroys her own wonders, sometimes suddenly, sometimes gradually over the years. It seems especially bitter when people wantonly ruin her beauty.
Those who seek beauty, truth and goodness are often drawn to things that contain a hint of permanence. We appreciate enduring literature, stories that seem to retain some of this truth, beauty and goodness. We can always go back and read that lovely book again. So too we are drawn to fine architecture, works of art, things that seem to last, that which is old and so appears almost permanent.
We long for permanence. We do not want all things to pass away. God created this world to be good and beautiful, and we are meant to appreciate these glimpses of goodness and beauty that can still be seen in this now fatally-wounded world. When we see the beautiful come to an end it is painful, it is sad: the ancient oak cut down for no good reason, the pastoral loveliness of a childhood home marred by an ill-conceived development, the fine old house ruined by “remodeling,” another neglected then torn down.
Even the things that we think of as permanent have only just been lucky to survive a little longer than most. Visiting Rome people marvel over its grandeur and beauty. It seems almost eternal, but barbarians may burn it to the ground again sooner than we think.
Deliberate destruction of beautiful things is tragic, but how much sadder is the loss of people we love? It is sometimes said that to love is to risk loss, but it would be truer said that with love, loss is guaranteed .
How do so many people not notice the tragedy we are living? They numb themselves to it, never noticing the goodness and beauty in the first place so neither do they mourn its loss. Their lives are poorer for it, but are they less painful? It can be tempting to stop caring, to stop loving in an attempt to steel one’s heart against the pain of loss.
How does one peacefully surrender all that is good in one’s life without slipping into apathy or despair? How does one love and yet be willing to let go? How do we live in a temporary world, we who are made for a permanent one?
We are meant to care for and love the people in our lives. We are meant to be good stewards of God’s creation. We are meant to love what God gives us in this world, but we are meant to love God more.
Beloved people, fond places, beautiful things: they are gifts, but not possessions; they are, every one, only on loan. Even we who have faith must mourn their passing, for this is not as it should be. Even Jesus wept (John 11:35).
“Because God did not make death and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things that they might exist” – Wisdom 1:13-14