Becoming detached by becoming more attached
It’s kind of ironic that detachment requires attachment. But this is what Adrian van Kaam makes a case for in his book Personality Fulfillment in the Spiritual Life.
As you probably know, Christian tradition encourages detachment from the things of this world. Van Kaam, who was a Catholic priest and professor of psychology, says we are also to be attached:
I should be truly attached to this world, to my fellow man, to my study, and my task. Because I live a Christian existence, I should be more deeply committed to this world than any non-Christian.
So how does one cultivate a spirit of detachment if we are to be truly attached to this world? By becoming attached in a deeper way:
When I am really growing I do not lose my attachment to people and the world, but my attachment deepens itself constantly…
What I should give up is not my attachment to people and the world but the superficial forms of attachment to them.
He cites as an example a young man who falls for a girl because of her physical beauty. As he develops an attachment to her he discovers her inner qualities and his attachment deepens and he is able to truly love her.
Finally, assuming your attachments are healthy, of course, and not a result of extreme neediness, Van Kaam says attached detachment is the mark of an “authentic Christian.” Such a Christian is a “joyful lover of the world” to such a degree that people may say of him what they said of Christ:
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, Behold a man who is a glutton and a wine-drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners (St. Luke 7:34).
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