Advent with A Kempis VI

Chapter 6: Disordered Affections (or An Inordinate Fondness for the Beatles)

“Whenever you desire anything inordinately, you immediately find that you grow dissatisfied with yourself.”

The word “inordinately” has helped me to understand a lot of these classics of occidental spirituality. When the authors speak of denying the world or despising the self, they are using hyperbole to discourage inordinate attachment to the ephemeral. They are pointing to a detachment, an apatheia, not too unlike that practiced by many Buddhists.

The ONE campaign and Relevant Magazine have joined forces to form a project called Reject Apathy[1] to fight against global poverty and have sold hundreds of t-shirts with their new logo. I’m tempted to wear my own “Embrace Apatheia” t-shirt to represent Kempis, most of the patristic theologians, and all those in the apophatic tradition.

“Whenever you desire anything inordinately, you immediately find that you grow dissatisfied with yourself.”

When asked what we can conclude about the Creator from studying creation, the British geneticist and biologist J.B.S. Haldane said, “It would appear that God has an inordinate fondness for beetles.” Besides revealing the fun fact that there are more types of beetles than any other form of insect (and there are more insects than any other kind of animal), Haldane’s quote playfully suggests the “inordinate” posture of the divine. This same posture can be seen in the Old Testament where God is described as jealous, remorseful, and even fickle! God can be inordinate, but we can’t? But even the Old Testament prophets didn’t embrace apatheia. Their whole mission was to move others to reject apathy.

Throughout the history of Christianity, the “Reject Apathy” tradition and the “Embrace Apatheia” tradition have grown and developed alongside each other like the contemplative Mary and the active Martha. The former has semitic roots in the prophetic tradition and invites heartfelt emotions and cataphatic[2] prayer. The latter is mostly influenced by Plato, Plotinus, Evagrius, Pseudo-Dionysius and the Stoic tradition, which emphasize the apophatic[3] approach to the ineffable God.

The contemplative and active life are sisters and both of them are at work in the life of Christ. One serves the lowly and fights against socio-economic oppression while the other provides a balance by keeping our desires under control. Even desires for social justice can become “inordinate” and leave us immediately dissatisfied with ourselves, as Kempis says.

For me, apatheia always holds me accountable when it appears that I have an inordinate fondness for the Beatles!

[1] (accessed December 5, 2009)

[2] utilizing images, thoughts and ideas to encounter the divine

[3] excluding the use of any images, thoughts or ideas to encounter the divine


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