What Am I Attached To?
01 June 2006

Some days my sense of nothingness and being a nobody is as addictive as my sense of really being something and somebody.

ANTHONY DE MELLO tells the following story: The disciple went into the forest to meet the Master. ‘Master’, he said, ‘I have come to you with nothing.’ ‘Then drop it, drop it at once,’ said the Master. ‘How can I drop it?’ replied the disciple. ‘It is nothing.’ ‘Well then,’ responded the Master, ‘You will just have to carry it around with you.’

One day Jesus met a wealthy young man, a leader in his community. He had done everything right, lived by the book, obeyed all the rules. The sort of loving son who had never upset his mother, genuinely loved God and wanted to be his best. He asked Jesus if he could become one of his followers. Absolutely, responded Jesus, who could see right through him: just one thing more would be needed to free him up. ‘Sell all you have, give the money to the poor, and then come and join me,’ he said. The young man shrank, and slunk away.

We can be as attached to our nothing as to our something. Some days my sense of nothingness and being a nobody is as addictive as my sense of really being something and somebody. I can get quite secure in feeling that I have nothing to give and nobody is interested in me, and it has proved to be a great excuse.

‘Make poverty history’ is a current cry. To do that we will have to make greed unacceptable. According to Dr Rama Mani, Director of the New Issues in Security Course at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, ‘The forces of greed (in today’s world) far, far outweigh the weight of human need.... Greed has been glorified. It has not only been sanitised, it has been legalised. It has been made necessary, the bedrock of our society’. The great god greed has got us in its grip.

This challenges me to look at the greed operating in my own life. For food certainly, for affirmation and recognition, for comfort and personal space, for novelty, for affection, for shoes... the list goes on. So where does my greed stem from? What is the insecurity, the indifference, the fear, the identity crisis that I attempt to stifle with my attachments?

We might all do well, in our consumer societies, to take a look at the real nature of our hunger. Henri Nouwen wrote in Reaching Out, ‘Poverty makes a good host’. I have seen the truth of this paradox in the generosity of people in Africa and India. But it is also true in a spiritual sense. Do we have space in our hearts and homes for each other, or are we too ‘fully fed up’, as one non-English-speaking, overzealous hostess said, as I declined yet another serving of her sumptuous banquet?