Thomas A’Kempis with salt

I’ve been working through The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A’Kempis. Parts of it are really wonderful. Whole sections of it read like they came straight from the Psalms in a style not unlike e.e cummings psalm rewrites that sound better than the originals. Some of it sounds like it’s straight from Proverbs. Good stuff. He also has some very harsh words to say to those obsessed with religious academia and high theological arguments. Those are some of the best parts! I’ll be posting a sampling of that soon.

BUT, (and “That’s a pretty big but(t)” says the little fish in Finding Nemo), A’Kempis also gets on my nerves. The book is chock-full of stuff like this:

Whoso, therefore, withdraweth himself from his acquaintance and friends, God will draw near unto him with his holy angels. It is better for a man to live privately, and to take care of himself, than to neglect his soul, though he could work wonders in the world. It is commendable in a religious person seldom to go abroad, to be unwilling to see or be seen.

Let not thy peace depend on the tongues of men; for whether they speak well or ill, thou are not therefore another man. Where are true peace and true glory? Are they not in [Christ]? And he that desireth not to please men, nor feareth to displease them, shall enjoy much peace. For inordinate love and vain fear ariseth all disquiet of heart and distraction of mind.

It is better often, and safer, that a man should not have many consolations in this life, especially such as are according to the flesh…When a man hath perfect contrition, then is the whole world grievous and bitter unto him.

Stop the tape! That’s easy for you to say. Let’s tear ourself away from the world and meditate on the Lord, rejoicing in quite communion with him. That’s all great, but I think this all needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Why? How dare I question the wisdom of this highly-spiritual church father?

  • He was never married, never had to learn to communicate with a wife.
  • He never had to raise any children.
  • He never had to take care of toddlers. (Yes, this deserves it’s own bullet point.)
  • Living in the monastery, he never had money so he never wrestled with managing finances.
  • He had lots of work to do, but never a job with a boss, staff meetings, finite sick leave, and a house full of dependents hanging on every penny bought home. Just 50+ years of chores.

I think the little bio on the back of the book puts it plainly:

Thomas A’Kempis (c. 1380-1471), a Dutch priest, quietly lived to more than ninety in exercises of devotion, writing and copying, reading, preaching, and exhorting others.

Hey man, whatever floats your boat. Sounds nice actually, but it’s not what God has called me too. Therefore, I won’t get upset about these kinds of idealistic exhortations any more. I won’t feel like a failure! Right…

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