Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Imitation of Christ (Thomas a’ Kempis): Still Relevant?

For the last 5 centuries, the work of Thomas a’ Kempis, specifically his book, Imitation of Christ, had enjoyed tremendous notice and following, running a close second to Holy Scriptures.

But I suspect the very soothing ease and fancy trappings in modern living have pushed it aside.  Modern man preferring devotional materials more in consonance and congruence with civilized and comfortable living

Indeed critics of Imitation of Christ have said that its core teachings are too ascetic and austere, and too isolationist, and thus maybe too well beyond the reach of most or least liked by most.   That it is too critical about modern life and its myriad of enjoyable pleasures.  That it is too focused on staying clear from those activities that cater to the temporal needs and wants of man.

While the old centered the living of life on sacrifices and deprivation, the modern wants a more tolerant outlook of hedonistic modern life and its allures, exorcised   maybe with some moderation and control.  As a way of deflecting any sense of guilt?

This change in outlook, or call it compromise, now has widespread currency in the world, even among those of strong religious fervor and faith.

In a real sense, a’ Kempis and his beliefs may have lost relevance and applicability to our ever-changing world.

One last hurrah for my personal depiction of the world that might have come from the pens of a’ Kempis and the writers of the old books:

It appears as ever that man is destined to suffer in this world, regardless of how differently everybody else thinks.  That no amount of good intentions and noble actions can stem the surging tide that is pushing man to the path of perdition and misery.  As we read in the classical good books, man is bound to suffer and that is his lot.  That there is no escaping that.  So might as well prepare for that, designing plans and attitudes with that in mind.

Thus many of us have resigned to the reality that life is not intended to be enjoyed, but suffered through.  We have been destined not to gather peace and happiness but to go through tribulations and crosses.  

Perish the thoughts then that because life is short, we ought to pursue whatever little fleeting enjoyment we can derive from it.  Like, plan for those dearly-craved-for vacations and fancy trips to witness grand sights and interesting people never before experienced.  Gather as much pleasant memories while the candle of life still burns.  For when life is no more, everything is gone.

But if once life is gone and everything else is gone, why bother?  Isn’t there wisdom then in the Biblical saying that we should not gather material treasures that fade with time, but instead gather those that will last for eternity?

For indeed what has happened to the enjoyments and the pleasant experiences of the last happy trip? The momentous once-in-a-lifetime vacation taken with special friends and family?  The historic meeting with cherished acquaintances separated by so many decades?  Even the thrills and smiles of yesterday?  They probably have lost their novelty and before long will be consigned to the unattended corners of our mind and life.

 At most, we ought to seek only for contentment or some degree of satisfaction that we have tried hard to live a good life. A simple and uncluttered life.  A life of constant challenges and countless occasions of begin-again moments.

 The real measure being in the dogged determination and passion of the attempts, rather than the grandiosity of the results.