Time to redeem “apathy”?

This blessed me a lot. I hope you find it helpful. It is quoted with very kind and generous permission, as I acknowledge later,  for which I am very grateful.

“ … routinely, am I capable of looking at how I’m thinking and how I’m feeling with a bit of distance, a little coolness? Am I capable of taking my intense feelings, positive and negative, out of the depths of my guts for a moment and putting them where I can look at them – and where Christ can look at them?

It’s what the ancient spiritual traditions mean by ‘dispassion.’ It’s a terrible word, and it’s not much better in Greek, because apatheia sounds remarkably like ‘apathy’ and it is indeed the source of our English word. But dispassion, apatheia, in the spiritual understanding of the early Christians, involved exactly that capacity to stand back a fraction from how we are feeing, what we think we are wanting, and what other people are wanting. We are saying, “Just a moment – can I make some space around these feelings, these instincts, these emotions, these desires? Can I create a bit of air around them and not allow my reactions instantly to be dictated by them?’ And that applies equally to feelings of enormous ecstasy and enthusiasm as to resentment or misery. Stand back a little, give those feelings room to breathe; give yourself room to breathe. Look them in the eye and say, ‘Now come on, how real are you? What’s this really about?

Self-awareness, and this rather alarming word ‘dispassion’, are to do with developing some sense of freedom from the projections, the expectations, the busyness, that constantly threaten to hem us in. And we only really get that when, in our prayer and in our life generally, we make enough space to hear our name spoken by God…To sustain ‘life in the Spirit’ under pressure, we need to retain the ability to say to God, ‘Tell me who I am.’ Because I’m not going to settle with what everyone else is telling me – I’m not even going to settle with what I am telling me. I need to hear it from God, the God who tells me. Because then I know that I exist, I live, I flourish, simply because of his speaking. ‘I have called you by name,’ says God, ‘you are mine’ (Isaiah 43.1).”

(Taken from Being Disciples (pages 77-79) by Rowan Williams, SPCK, London, 2016 used by permission. For more information please go to  http://spckpublishing.co.uk/product/being-disciples-essentials-of-the-christian-life/”

Some of you might even want to gently sing these words from my childhood and perhaps from yours as a prayer; the words come from the hymn, “O Jesus I have promised…”

O let me hear thee speaking
in accents clear and still,
above the storms of passion,
the murmurs of self-will.
O speak to reassure me,
to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen,
thou guardian of my soul.

God bless you with true apatheia! Dispassion is s as much needed for spiritual health as passion it would seem…


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