Posts Tagged ‘Detachment’

In our last segment we left off with an observation of detachment on the part of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Eponine (Samantha Barks).  Now let’s take a look at how their respective acts of detachment converge in the wedding of Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), and then move on from there.


On the one hand we have a lover whose love is unrequited…

Jean Valjean_Cosette

…and on the other an adoptive father reluctant to lose the only companion he has in life.

Both have come to the same realization: “They are not ours to claim.”

Brace yourself, for we are touching a deep vein of the story’s inner life that is necessary for a life both of Grace and transcendence: Detachment.

Colm Wilkinson

It all starts with the Bishop (Colm Wilkinson), who gives Valjean two of his candlesticks in addition to those of his possessions that Valjean had initially stolen.  In so doing, the Bishop is clearly a man of the Gospel:

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.  Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. (Matthew 5: 40-41)

The more detached we are from earthly things, the less we have to lose; the less we have to lose, the less our enemies can take from us, and the more we have to give.


The problem of attachment has haunted us since the Fall of Adam and Eve, which made the elevation of the ego and the subservient urge to to dominate people, things, and nature for ourselves normative for mankind — so much so that we tend not even to perceive anything wrong with it unless it gets violent.

We can think of it like a beautiful moth we are tempted to hold in our hands.  It’s great, but what happens when we hold it too tight?  It dies from suffocation.

But when we can let go of those persons and things we cling to inordinately, they have a way of then being able to take flight like the moth, to fulfill their true purpose toward the Kingdom of God.  And we, being unburdened by attachment, have the freedom and levity of heart to do the same ourselves.

Images obtained through a Google image search

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There were two films in 2012 dealing with U.S.-Middle East relations (at least, two that got people’s attention) — Ben Afleck’s “Argo” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Arguably, “Argo” is the one that attracted more attention (correct me if I’m wrong) — plus it won the Oscar for Best Picture.

But having seen and appreciated both films, I feel that “Zero Dark Thirty” is, by far, the better film.


Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, a young CIA operative recruited right out of high school within a few years of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  For the better part of the decade, she engages exclusively and single-mindedly in the arduous quest to discover the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and bring about his capture.

In the end, as we well know, this quest is successful.  And as the film closes, we see Maya getting onto a helicopter and sitting silent for an extended period, tears welling up in her eyes — tears that can only come from the realization of a goal which one has spent years of great focus and effort to attain.

I don’t know much about the facts behind the story, so I couldn’t say which parts were accurate, which parts were for Hollywood flavor, etc.  But what I want to focus on with regard to this movie is the laser-beam focus exhibited by its main character and her team of co-workers, and what we can learn from it in our approach to the spiritual life.

DostoyevskyIn his classic novel “The Brothers Karamazov,” the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky — no doubt having shrewdly observed developing trends in society — places a profound insight into the mouth of one of his characters, the wise Fr. Zosima.  I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something to the effect that man would one day make the mistake of trying to find happiness in the “multiplication of his desires.”

Well, I think it is relatively clear that this is the case in our time.  Most of us in Western society either don’t really know what we want or mistakenly think we want things that deep down, we really don’t want.  We go through life with a lot of little goals and wants, but we tend not to have an overarching goal or value to tie everything together.

I suspect part of the reason for this is that we are a pleasure-seeking culture, and devoting oneself exclusively to one particular thing necessarily involves sacrifice and, often, a certain amount of pain.  It demands that certain goods be excluded for the sake of the chosen good.  Sadly, we are not very good at recognizing this fact, let alone acting on it.

Moneyball_PosterAnother great example of the principle of “single-mindedness” in film is the 2011 film “Moneyball,” which chronicles the determined efforts of General Manager Billy Bean to make the Oakland As a competitive team again.  With this clear goal in mind, he uses every means available to achieve the desired end.  If we look at the lives and work of some of the greatest leaders in history, we will find a similar singularity of focus.

ZeroDarkThirty2012PosterIn “Zero Dark Thirty,” the goal of the main character and her team is clear: The capture of Osama Bin Laden.  Maya proves she truly wants this not by talking about it or doing a little bit about it here and there, but by throwing her whole self into it.

Now I’m not arguing for the oft-repeated adage “the end justifies the means,” nor am I approving of all tactics depicted in this film as being used to bring about the capture of Bin Laden.  The use of torture is particularly problematic, and there could be a whole separate post on that.

What I mean to do is merely point out the difference that single-minded determination makes, with reference to how it can help someone resolved to make progress in the spiritual life.


And indeed, this is very much a part of classical Christian spirituality.  I like to use the Scripture passage in which Jesus eats at the home of Martha and Mary as an illustration:

(Martha) had a sister named Mary (who)* sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.  Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”  The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10: 39-42) (italics mine)

Christ is the “one thing necessary.”  He is love itself, truth itself, goodness itself.  If we strive to put Him first, everything else will fall into place.

And if a team of CIA agents can expend so much energy and effort to capture and kill a terrorist leader, surely we can spend a little bit of ourselves to make room for the Loving Savior in our hearts so as to make the divine love, through our own lives, more present in the world.

* Included in source text

Image of Jessica Chastain obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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