Learning to Dance

Explorations in the Spiritual Life

Date: March 1, 2004

evening thoughts

It is stormy out, the wind whipping through the trees, clouds swirling about, rain coming down, mixed with sleet, mixed with snow. Illuminated by light, the colors of the trees become bold, strident greens, sharp browns. All that can be heard is the sound of the rain patter on the soil and roof, to which I add the mournful sound of a tin whistle in subtle harmony with the wind and rain. My breath clouds up around, my hands begin to shake in the cold, yet I continue to stand and play, participating in the chorus of nature, seeking by this to raise my mind again to the heights.

The monks of old say the cure for acedia is manual labor. Get the body moving and the mind will follow. Exercise is this, in part, for they certainly did not mean any kind of work. Sitting in front of a computer for eight hours, even for a salary, is not the path. Movement, activity, getting the body into a renewed rhythm, focusing the mind on external things, that is the way, the response.

Acedia taps the soul, encouraging one to forget to meditate on the virtues, and that is a very slippery slope. I sin most in moods like this, because hey, I feel crappy anyhow, might as well give a reason for it. It’s a lie of course, the slide away from the heights. It is very easy to lie to oneself. Today, I suffer from a mind numbing cold, more a bother than a worry, but a bother which robs me of creativity, and robs me of a moment of needed exercise. I move and I start coughing. So, I neither can write nor can I move, the answers to the internal darkness.

It then becomes a day for prayer, for reaching out purposely. Even that falls short, my only prayer an earnest, “help”. I wait, and sit, and pray that simple prayer, wishing for more to present itself, waiting for God’s timing. There is virtue to be found in waiting in the cell, for we are forced to contend with our worst enemy, ourselves. I yearn to taste of those things of God, yearn to feel his presence fully around. I pray, and I hear a response I do not want, “wait.” Yes, Lord. I think I’ll go back out and harmonize with the elements again.

morning thoughts

The fog has rolled in this morning. The sun never really broke out, but the early morning did see its shine. Not now, the fog is thick, moving, condensation collecting. A little chickadee twitters in a nearby tree. Saws and hammers echo across the valley, construction and destruction continuing.

One of the great temptations of those pursuing the spiritual life is that of acedia. It is one of the deadly sins, though as many no longer follow the path with earnestness it is a forgotten sin. Or maybe not, maybe it lurks strong and has a powerful sway in our era keeping many from following their hearts to the depths and distances. Essentially, it is a weariness, like sloth, though with a nuance. It is a spiritual lassitude, a vague feeling of discontent focused on the spiritual life. It afflicts especially those who while themselves away for spiritual purposes, upsetting the mind and spirit with thoughts of purposelessness and uselessness. “It is not worth it,” this sin says, “you are wasting your time. Go find something of more value, visit a friend, do something of note with your life. There is nothing to be found in your life, it is empty.” Many listen and leave the Way, or at least leave the path to peace, holding on to just enough to get the taste, if not the fullness, of the Spirit. Faith, the writer of Hebrews tells us, is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Too often in our versions Faith insists on the palpable, and we lose hope when we cannot see, or taste, or feel.

I awoke this morning with thoughts of other things, paths I could have pursued, wasted years of practical naught. I think of the women I was attracted to, and how my decisions put me on a path of solitude in the present. What could I have changed, what would have worked? All the answers being a lessened heart, a diminished soul, sacrificing the distance of the path I’ve made for baubles, both cheap and valuable. I kept my eyes, loosely, on the goal, and now I am here in my present situation, unknowing of too many practical answers. My heart tells me one thing, then another. Acedia tells me it is not worth it, to quit and go, to stop and start over without the epiphanic ambitions. Faith tells me all is well, to wait and be patient, to trust that God is at work, to believe prayers uttered are prayers answered. I do not believe, Lord, help my unbelief. I shall try to rest in faith, even if this must be a conscious act on my part, acting in trust, hoping that the feeling will follow. Anyway, the acedia I feel could be more the result of the cold medicine than anything insidious. Either way, overcoming temptation of all sorts is a worthwhile activity.

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