Thursday, October 8, 2015


I’ve been contemplating the concept of detachment this week. It’s something I contemplate often. I have to because I find myself having to let go of my attachments again and again in many aspects of my life.

Detachment is hard. It’s also spiritually important which may be why so many of the great spiritual traditions recommend practicing
it. Christian medieval mystic Meister Eckhart is probably most well-known for his teachings on detachment. Eckhart said, “He who would be serene and pure needs but one thing, detachment” and “To be full of things is to be empty of God. To be empty of things is to be full of God.” These ‘things’ to which Eckhart refers include thoughts, beliefs, ideas, possessions, goals, and descriptors of all kinds (male, female, rich, poor, beautiful, ignorant, capable, straight, gay, etc.), control, and outcomes.

The Greek word for this is kenosis and it means self-emptying. Jesus modeled and taught this saying, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Mt 16:25

It seems apparent, then, why detachment isn’t a comfortable concept in 21st century America. Our globally connected modern culture continually motivates (tempts) us to attach: to information via 24-hour news cycles, online shopping sites, and interest boards; to a variety of products, and the need for those products like smart phones and watches, the newest and best shoes, cars, jeans, tools; to ideas about beauty, success, importance, etc.

I’ve found, though, that as much as I enjoy my attachments (aware that I’m typing this on my touch-screen lap-top), I know that the only way I can serve God well is to continually practice detachment. It’s how I make space in my thoughts, goals, and life for God’s will.

Detachment means letting go of the self and self-interest. It is the “self” that attaches, e.g., this is my title, my job, my car, my church…. The self that attaches is, according to theologian Richard Rohr, the false self. The true self is found only when the false self is denied. As Jesus said, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Lk 9:23)

One of the hardest practices of detachment is letting go of outcomes. Walking faithfully in the will of God inevitably leads us to difficult moments. Using our God-given gifts of intellect and experience, we can see where things are heading. Judging the forthcoming outcome as bad or undesirable, we’re often tempted to influence a change of course.

Sometimes, however, the outcome we foresee isn’t the final outcome in God’s plan for us. God sees beyond what our limited minds can conceive and sometimes we’re called to wait and trust until redemption is accomplished by God. Think of the crucifixion. It looked to everyone like Jesus’ death was the end, but it wasn’t. No one could have foreseen the resurrection as the true outcome. Only God.

Finally, detachment is life-giving because letting go of self and self-interest frees us to enter into right relationship (righteousness) with God, neighbor, and creation. In what ways might we, as the body of Christ, and individually as members of it, practice detachment as we journey toward the Jordan River together? What beliefs, ideas, possessions, and outcomes tempt us to attach? In what tangible ways can we detach from those and move into righteousness together?

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