Friday, May 1, 2015

Enjoying Beauty through Detachment

As I sit here staring at the patch of blue sky showing between the two buildings in front of me, I sometimes find myself wishing that I could be out walking through the fields (like in the photo above) instead of sitting here in this little office all day.  My thoughts turn again to the words of these two prayers (from A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie) that I've been meditating on this past month.  I would like to share them with you.

“Creator Spirit, who broodest everlastingly over the lands and waters of earth, enduing them with forms and colours which no human skill can copy, give me to-day, I beseech Thee, the mind and heart to rejoice in Thy creation.

Forbid that I should walk through Thy beautiful world with unseeing eyes:

Forbid that the lure of the market-place should ever entirely steal my heart away from the love of the open acres and the green trees:

Forbid that under the low roof of the workshop or office or study I should ever forget Thy great overarching sky:

Forbid that when all Thy creatures are greeting the morning with songs and shouts of joy, I alone should wear a dull and sullen face:

Let the energy and vigour which in Thy wisdom Thou hast infused into every living thing stir to-day within my being; that I may not be among Thy creatures as a sluggard and a drone:

And above all give me grace to use these beauties of earth around me and this eager stirring of life within me as means whereby my soul may rise from creature to Creator, and from nature, to nature’s God.”

And also……

“Forbid, O Lord God, that my thoughts to-day should be wholly occupied with the world’s passing show.  Seeing that in Thy lovingkindness Thou hast given me the power to lift my mind to the contemplation of things unseen and eternal.

Forbid that I should remain content with the things of sense and time.

Grant rather that each day may do something so to strengthen my hold upon the unseen world, so to increase my sense of its reality, as to attach my heart to its holy interests,

That as the end of my earthly life draws ever nearer, I many not grow to be a part of these fleeting earthly surroundings, but rather grow more and more conformed to the life of the world to come.”

Amen to both of these prayers; yet I find that I am usually somewhere in between the sentiments expressed in these two prayers:  a longing and appreciation for the beauty of the natural realm; and, at the same time, a longing and searching for the beauty of our Eternal Creator.

It seems that one key to finding the right balance in my life may be found in the concept of “Detachment” – which I thought was expressed so well in these two quotes by Fr. Ron Rolheiser  (

“One of the key movements within our spiritual lives is the movement from fantasy to prayer, a movement that ultimately frees us from wanting to press to ourselves all that’s beautiful to appreciating beauty for its own sake.  We can only really see and appreciate beauty when we stop lusting for it.”
     “Seeing in a Deeper Way” March 16, 2015

“Some of us are obsessed with beauty, some of us are obsessed with finding a soul mate, some of us are obsessed with sex, some of us are obsessed with truth, some of us are obsessed with justice, and some of us are obsessed with the energy, color, and pleasures of this world.  But very few of us are obsessed, or even much interested, in God who is the author of beauty, sexuality, intimacy, truth, justice, energy, color, and pleasure.”
     “Longing, Desire, and the Face of God” December 5, 2010

I’m trying to learn how to balance my appreciation for God’s creation and my desire to know Him by practicing detachment.  I can best enjoy what God has made and given me by using it, or appreciating it, (dependent on what is most appropriate), without trying to possess or control it.  God saw all that He had made and said, “It is good”.  I want to know and enjoy all that is good in this world, including those persons whom I love, but my heart yearns even more to see the face of the One who is the Author of life and beauty.

And when, in His wisdom, He removes from me that to which I have become too attached, I should recognize that this too is Beauty:  the beauty of trusting and resting in the darkness without anxiety.  “Even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to You.”  (Ps. 139:12)  My love of beauty is not dependent upon my external world.  There is also the beauty of Truth and the beauty of Holiness which surrounds me and lifts me up to heavenly realms, where I am seated with Christ.  Not a beauty according to the senses, (which I appreciate so much when it is given), but the beauty of who God is.

I find that I am firmly a man of the flesh, caught up in all the desires and passions of the flesh, trying (mostly unsuccessfully it seems!) to control them, wanting to know and experience all that Life has to offer me.  I find that when I am caught up in the problems surrounding me, that the place in which I seek for peace is out “in nature” enjoying the handiwork of God.  All of man’s achievements and problems seem to pale beside the beauty of a flower, a tree, a stream, a rock, a meadow in the early morning light.  And my heart begins to talk to God more easily in this setting.

Yet, I cannot cling to this consolation; for I begin to lean too heavily upon His creation and His gifts (including that nice cup of morning coffee, a good book, a fine dinner, and pleasant conversations with my friend).  One by one, He begins to remove them from me, and gently reminds me that somewhere along the way, I began to enjoy the gifts more than the Giver, that I began to lust after them, that I began to think of them as “mine”, that I was trying to cling to them and find my security in them – and that I must let go of the Exterior in order for the Interior to grow.  Not in a denial of all that is good and beautiful in my life – there is much that I appreciate in the natural as well as any other man would.  My life has been well blessed in material comforts.  What I am trying to learn is the art of letting go of the exterior beauty in my life in order to truly appreciate it; and then letting it lead me ever onward towards the beauty of my Savior and my God.

That which we seek to grasp tightly is often that which most easily slips through our fingers.  I need to be at a place when I can walk down the street and see a beautiful face, a lovely scene, or a pleasant object, and not feel like I must own them.  I do not need to possess or control anything or any person.  I can express my appreciation for God’s creation, while knowing that peace comes best when I am able to say with the Psalmist, “for God alone my soul waits in silence”.

The struggle of my life is to find that right balance:  using without overusing, eating without overeating, engaging without over-engaging, speaking without over-speaking – appreciating all that God has for me in this world without making them my crutch and my god.  I am seeking to live that balance through Detachment and Moderation; both of which I am sadly far from achieving.  Yet, “One does not become a saint in four days”, said St. Philip Neri, and for my sake I am glad he said this, for it gives me hope on this lifelong journey towards God.

And maybe, just maybe, I will yet arrive at the place where I can enjoy the smell of fresh brewed coffee and fresh baked goodies without feeling compelled to partake.  Or, to be able to walk through a meadow in the evening light, admiring the flowers without desiring to pick them to take home with me.  (Why do I do this?  They just shrivel up in a day or two anyways and then I throw them out!)  It seems to me that true freedom would be found in the ability to enjoy something without needing to consume it for myself.  Ahh!  To enjoy that early morning coffee smell -- and then let someone else drink it instead!  For my soul has found something better to feed on:  the One who said, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Brother Nathan

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