Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 20

52. The intellect joined to God for long periods through prayer and love becomes wise, good, powerful, compassionate, merciful and long-suffering; in short, it includes within itself almost all the divine qualities. But when the intellect withdraws from God and attaches itself to material things, either it becomes self-indulgent like some domestic animal, or like a wild beast it fights with men for the sake of these things.

I’ve never been one to have the sort of attachment to material things that often comes first to mind in our modern consumer society. I don’t particularly care if I have the latest and greatest of something. It doesn’t much matter to me what others think of my car, my clothes, or my gadgets. Most of my life I’ve driven old, hand-me-down beaters with their own flaws like no working air conditioner, broken power windows, dents and scratches, and the like. Even when I did buy my first car from a dealer recently, I looked for the least expensive used car that met my needs at Carmax. I expect to drive it into the ground as well.

However, that’s simply who I am. It’s a quirk of my personality. I’m glad I’m not driven to acquire stuff, since I’ve seen what that can do to people. But it’s not something with which I’ve ever struggled, so there’s nothing praiseworthy in my lack of that sort of attachment.

That’s not the only way to be attached to material things, however. I do enjoy the more sensory and ephemeral aspects of our world — the pleasures of the senses and the mind. I love the taste of good food, a fine beverage, or the feel of silk or linen against my skin. I can gaze at works like Starry Night for extended periods of time and I can lose myself in a good book. I’ve practiced many forms of meditation over the course of my life, but few can compare for me to the experience of losing myself on a dance floor. The lyrics, the beat pulsing through my body, and the music used to create that perfect space where I could let everything go.

In my twenties, at times I called my sense a hedonist with a sense of pride in the particular way I used the word. Now? I perceive the difference, I think, between enjoyment of all the good things our God has given us and attachment to those things for their own sake. I’m not sure where on that spectrum I would say I am, but I would never say that I am free from the sort of attachment that promotes self-indulgence or poor behavior toward my fellow human beings. I would say I’m beginning to perceive the difference.

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