Sloth (Acedia redux)
Seldom heard of, this is actually one of the 7 Deadly Sins. Acedia is the term first brought about by a monk in 1670, it is often heard by the name of Sloth. Current use of the term sloth would be understood as the animal that bears its name, or that is the slovenly and unmotivated person. In the list of the 7 Deadly Sins they all seem to count as behaviors. Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, and Gluttony. Lust and pride, of course are internal and their fulfillment is found in the actions they produce, but that can also be said of them all. But to read them you simply pass over the word sloth and perhaps think “indolent” or unfocused on their task. You would be mistaken.
Acedia is a different form of malaise and is at times described as “depression”. While there is a parallel track of common behaviors and symptoms their actual being and their root causes are different. Acedia can be found in today’s phrasing as “whatever”. It shows up in conversation as the flippant “but of course” attitude that is applied to things that are base and low, but also that are to be un-moving and not significant anymore. So it is with the things like the dishonesty of the church elders or the secretary or the behaviors of those in power that abuse their office. It is the malaise of the student that has given up on their future and the businessman that decides that the affairs of his offices are less fun than the affairs on his trips. It is not the affair that I speak of it is the “whatever” that allows it.
The idea I am looking at is found in this question: “What is it that will not move me?” Pick a topic, and place a number there. It is your threshold of the callous that prevents notice. I hesitated over the word “notice”, as I was going to say pain, but it doesn’t need to get to that point, simply to get your attention. Here is a list to begin with; books, food, movies, sermons, clothes, hotel rooms, parades, your child’s drawings. Maybe it could be said this way, “Would I put that on my fridge?” Why will I not care? Perhaps you never did, and yet, perhaps your trust has been violated now. “America used to be…” or “The church used to do…” might be versions of unconcern or dismay in someone, but perhaps there is more.
So, set aside a moment and reflect about what is in your apathy or indifference folder and then you can begin to see a pattern of how things get put there. And then perhaps too, you can see that your cynicism has that same path and perhaps they are related. Perhaps you will see that they are eating at your joy in life and your soul is being sucked through that black hole as well. Then you are left with the “what to do questions…” There is only one thing to do, of course, but we need to define terms first. To Sin is an archery term that means to “miss the mark”, so then when we aim at a worthy goal but miss it we have “sinned” and must then repent. Repent simply means to “turn from the past ways”. So then, to err is not final, but to continue on that path will result in more of the same. Repent, then, will turn you from that path. It is the only thing that will work. Since Sloth is one of the 7 Deadly Sins, repentance is the only solution that can work. Lists, activities, and forced smiles are all ok for a while, but they will consume you in the end, and you know it as a sixth sense… you know, that little guy who sits on your shoulder nudging.
So what does repentance look like? To change your mind, but not to repair something, although the guilt ridden will want to. Not to proclaim the act to your group, although they might rejoice with you. The way of repentance is to find Wonder… once again. To see why that “thing” needs to be put on the fridge, and then to do it. To look at those that labor in a task, different than your own, and find the pride and skill in their doing. To look at the ones that you would deem less noble than your own profession and find a renewed value in what they do, and why they do it.
Once you begin to see with new eyes, that which has been in front of you all along, you will turn from your old ways of seeing the mundane and banal. Currently it is snowing in the area I live, and yet when I went to the airport the roads were already clear, the tickets were getting issued, the baggage and fuel tasks were being accomplished and the planes were getting de-iced. All things we just accept and get used to, but there is wonder there for those that see. Once I was getting my shoes shined and struck up the conversation with the man doing the job. As an aging man he remarked that he had just landed the contract for the airport, had 30 employees, an accountant and a lawyer. All I needed to do was ask. All that was needed was a bit of curiosity, and then I found out that he does weddings as well. Didn’t see that coming. “Everyone dresses up, but no one does their shoes”, “we show up for the first hour, then we leave, simple as that”… wonder to the ones that will look for it.
When wonder gets tainted, filled with impurity and the things of the day that slow us down, we need to repent, again. Turn away from that which is of no value and only consumes the hope that we had, only some short time before. Acedia, called the “noon-day demon” because it comes in the times of weariness in the well doing. In times that it feels like our actions don’t matter. That darkness is winning, so why bother. Then are the most profound times. Then are the times to turn, and to look again at the joy of friends and family. Of those that labor without accolades and fanfare. For the ones that keep the roads and bathrooms clean, that came early to make the coffee. These are worth the wonder. Wonder once more, as with childlike faith. Look again with new eyes. Do it for yourself, do it for your friends.