Lent with the Desert Fathers: Detachment and Simplicity

A Word From the Desert

Abba Zosimos said, “In time, through neglect, we lose even the little fervor that we suppose we have in our ascetic renunciation. We become attached to useless, insignificant, and entirely worthless matters, substituting these for the love of God and neighbor, appropriating material things as if they were our own or as if we had not received them from God. ‘What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, then why do you boast as if it were not a gift?’” (1 Cor. 4:7).1

He also said, “For as I always like to say: ‘It is not possessing something that is harmful, but being attached to it.’”2

Reflection

In these two sayings Abba Zosimos is pointing us to the power of detachment, a key element in the practice of simplicity. Detachment does not mean rejection of things or people. Instead, it reorients our relationship to those things and people. In identifying and letting go of “useless, insignificant, and entirely worthless matters,” we learn what is worth holding on to.

Attachment is like a closed fist that clings as tightly as possible, whereas detachment is like an open hand that receives and holds lightly. Detachment allows for authentic, healthy, and holy relationships. For Abba Zosimos detachment frees us to keep the two great commandments, love of God and love of neighbor.

For Consideration and Practice

  • For Abba Zosimos the issue is not the possession, the thing itself, but our relationship to the thing. Make an inventory of the twenty-five things that mean the most to you. What is your relationship to them? What do they mean to you and why do they mean that? What do they give you or do for you? If someone asked you for one of those things could you freely give it away? Take one of those things and give it away.
  • There is much about our economy that needs and encourages us to be consumers and buyers, “appropriating material things,” in the words of Abba Zosimos. True and lasting detachment will necessarily mean changing this attitude or expectation within ourselves. Reflect on what and how much you really need. Over the next week, month, maybe even the remainder of Lent, buy the absolute necessities but refuse to buy anything new–the kind of things we buy because we like them, we want them, and we have either the money or the credit. Reflect on this experience. Find a way to use the time and money that would have been spent shopping to express your love of God and neighbor.
  • “We become attached to useless, insignificant, and entirely worthless matters,” says Abba Zosimos. Clutter might be another way to think about what he is saying. Through attachments our lives become cluttered and there is less room for what truly matters, love of God and neighbor. Is your life cluttered? In what ways? By what? Though Abba Zosimos is speaking of material attachments, we can also become attached to, and our lives cluttered by, nonmaterial matters such as fear, busyness for busyness’ sake, headline news, technology. How might you use this Lent to declutter?

Prayer

Open my eyes, O Lord, to see that all that I have and all that I am is a gift received from you. Free me from the power of my possessions. Strengthen me to let go of my attachments. Let nothing in my life become a substitute for love of you and my neighbor. Amen.

Other Posts in this Series

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1. John Chryssavgis, In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, Inc., 2003), 137-138.

2. Ibid., 123.

5 thoughts on “Lent with the Desert Fathers: Detachment and Simplicity

  1. Pingback: Lent with the Desert Fathers: A Series on Fasting and Simplicity | Interrupting the Silence

  2. This is a wonderful exercise for someone in the process of downsizing in preparation for moving! Thanks, Fr. Mike.

    Like

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