Saturday, September 12, 2009

More on acedia

I want to talk some more about sloth (acedia), to chase this nasty, quiet sin of mine out into the light.

I have been besieged by the demons of sloth for the past few months, so much so at points that I am calling Christian friends in desperation asking for prayers to ward off this spiritual attack. It carries with it the same shame that sexual sin induces...the shame of succumbing to the appetites of the flesh. In this case that appetite is satiated by "a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest" (Prov 24:33) But only for a time. With habit, the root of sloth grows thicker and thicker until it is like a strong vine choking the life out of the tree. One moment becomes two becomes three, and before you know it you are resting the day away and paving the way to your own demise.

What does this sin look like in daily life?

For me, it is coming home from work and falling asleep at 7:30 without eating dinner (because making it is too much work--laziness), waking up hungry (poverty) at 6am, then hitting the snooze on the alarm in succession: 6:30, 6:45, 6:50, 6:52 until I cannot put off getting up anymore and drag myself out of bed, dreadful (dejection) of the day ahead. Each minute in bed I enjoy the way one might guiltily "enjoy" a pornographic movie, or sharing in gossip, or eating copious amounts of fat and sugar laden food. It is a "sweet" feeling, a sure sign that the flesh is being indulged. It is an escape from what needs to be attended to--that is, work and prayer.

It is tied to envy, another deadly sin. I desire what my neighbor has, while not wanting to work for it. This creates another vice, the vice of dejection, as St. John Cassian describes it. I get dejected at the work before me, because I don't want to do it, wanting for myself the fruits of someone else's labor.

Sleeping 8 hours a day is healthy; sleeping 12 hours a day is indulgent. I don't think about sex much these days, but that doesn't stop the devil from hitting me somewhere else. In this case, I have become a glutton for sleep, and greedy with my time, which should be directed towards God and charity towards my neighbor. It is a lust for rest.

And so I am not just guilty of one deadly sin (which carries with it the treat of eternal damnation), but FIVE (sloth, lust, envy, gluttony, greed). I deserve to be damned.

This idea of being shut out of heaven is no joke, and Jesus makes clear that "not everyone who cries 'Lord, Lord'" will enter. Take the parable of the foolilsh virgins who missed the bridegroom because they had neglected to bring enough oil for their lamps (Mt 25:1-13). This is the "poverty of the sluggard," Proverbs talks about. I am reaping the laziness I have sown. My only hope is that I can, with grace, begin to sow better seed so that I can produce good fruit.

Am I exagerating, or being hard on myself? Laziness is one of those 'sins of omission' that is so easy to forget about in the confessional, but which is so telling of one's character. Like a woman who is sensitive to the state of her body, I have recently come out of the fog and realized just how perilous a state my spirit is in.

So what is the remedy? I haven't figured this one out yet, but I imagine it is going to come down to just plain hard work (not that hard work alone merits salvation--that is Pelagianism)...the work of the athlete. Athletes train their bodies to compete. My soul is sick and my spirit flabby and heavy, an embarrassment in the eyes of the saints. I am full of excuses. God calls us to be holy, and being holy comes down to grace...and a lot of hard work.

St. Paul admonishes the Corinthians to train their spirits with this sports rhetoric:

"Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."

What does this training look like? For one, I imagine, it would look like charity rather than being selfish with one's time. I will be teaching CCD on Sundays starting in October, and tutoring Tuesday nights starting next week. Because this spirit of acedia has taken root in me, I regard this service with disdain--that is, I have no desire to do it, in the same way a child may have a disdain for doing the dishes after dinner. But what happens when it doesn't get done?

It looks like self-control. That means if the alarm goes off at 6am, I get up at 6am. I do the work of making breakfast and packing my lunch.

It also looks like prayer. Prayer wards off the devil. It is harder, now that I have invited the lion into the den, but with grace nothing is impossible. I need to do the work of prayer.

I will continue to be tried and tested as I resist the vices I am so prone to; the temptation only ceases when we close our eyes for the last time. This thought alone fills me with weariness. Which makes me think: life is not about easy living; it is hard work, whatever that 'work' might look like. I need to get on the ball so that like the tree that bore no fruit (Mt. 21:19), the servant who produced no interest on his talent (Lk 19:12-28), and the foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-13) who ran out of oil, I do not end up outside the gates, wailing and gnashing my teeth.

1 comment:

Regina Terrae said...

Rob, I imagine you have thought about differentiating between sin and mental illness, but I'll say it anyway: depression. There is a LOT going on in your life! Between your employment / vocational situation, and your upcoming marriage, you have a lot of stress (good changes are just as stressful as bad changes). I'm not saying it's OK to lie around in bed all day, I'm just saying, recognize that you may not be at normal capacity due to stress, and beyond a normal response to stress, you might really need to think about depression treatment.

I have been going through much of the same, and it's not all depression or all sloth. But if I hadn't started on anti-depressants, it would still be spiralling downward. I'm not where I want to be, but you know ... it's one thing to recognize your failings, it's another to beat yourself to a bloody pulp, which just makes you more depressed, which just makes you want to roll back over and sleep another 3 or 4 hours, which just makes you feel worse about yourself, and .... Give yourself a break, and get some help.

You are in my prayers.