Tag Archives: acedia

Why we should finish the fast — or start it today

Lent does drag on, doesn’t it?

As the season came to the last few weeks people started complaining. Some felt guilty because they never did anything — at least not like the people who wouldn’t stop talking about what they were doing! The Daily Prayer entries started to seem redundant and even boring. As the Covenant List people were chatting about, acedia became noticeable.

So why keep going?

I know I am not talking to everyone, since you did not start to begin with. That’s OK. You can keep reading and there are plenty of other things than Lent to help you keep moving in faith. Keep going how you are going.

On the other hand I know I am not talking to some other people because you are having the time of your life! So I don’t mean to imply that everyone is dragging around and feeling miserable. If you are experiencing the exquisite pleasure of honing your relationship with God and experiencing revelations and revolutions, thank God! Keep going how you are going.

Discipline trains our loves

But I know some of us need convincing. We are not all experienced at spiritual discipline – or maybe any discipline for that matter. We might think Lent (particularly fasting) is not only hard, it is unnecessary – and maybe you even feel it is insulting to imply, “You are not OK. You need to grow. You should do something.” So about this time of year the church can seem kind of oppressive and like all the “good kids” are doing the right thing together and no one is supposed to be resisting. You might even feel that resisting such groupiness makes you better than all the weak-willed people who just do what they are supposed to do. If any of this resonates, you are experiencing Lent in the way you do, too. Keep going.

I don’t mean you should keep resisting or entertain and elevate all the natural defense mechanisms you have just because the whole thing is getting rather personal. I mean you should note what the demand you feel is arousing and follow that arousal right into the Lord’s presence and see what is happening in you. God does not need a particular discipline to relate to you, but the particular discipline of the Lenten fast is even vicariously useful.

Fasting is a means to pleasure, you know, not just a morbid elevation of suffering, as if you were not supposed to have any pleasure. The purposeful abstention from a particular pleasure, like eating a certain food, allows it to regain its place as a prolepsis, a gift from God in the present that has an even greater reality in eternity. Through fasting, a pleasure can regain its value and meaning as a gift and a promise.

Discipline reduces our distractions

We are inordinately connected to a lot of things that crowd out our relationship with God. The willful act of uncrowding when we fast gives spiritual space for our true selves to flourish. It is healthy to rest from our pleasures, like we rest from everything else. Most of the time the wearniness of our yearning or our resistance to yearning can lead us to become open to God’s presence. There is an old poem by George Herbert (1593-1633) called The Pulley that tries to get at it, if you’d like to give it a read. Our sense of emptiness and our frustration over not being at rest is like the pulley God uses to do his work of salvation.

The Lifeline by Winslow Homer, 1884

Fasting from what normally occupies us or addicts us, helps us rebel against the errors of the modern era that have overtaken most of us in one way or another. Addicts are actually unwitting prophets since they find a substance or activity that provides a central, organizing reality in a culture that has the meaning sucked out of it and is hollow. Society gives us arbitrariness, boredom and loneliness but your vidiocy, for example, provides a false, but stimulating antidote. Addiction highlights the damnation; fasting opens us up to salvation.

Discipline opens us up to true pleasure

Fasting prepares us to savor the pleasure we have purposefully deprived ourselves of during Lent. For instance, I usually don’t eat cookies, my favorite food, during Lent. A lack of cookies has a surprising way of opening me up to the pleasures of God’s guidance. So I especially enjoy the first taste of cookie on Easter morning. I could go home and eat an entire batch to get back on the addiction wagon. Or I could learn, again, that I can eat a cookie with meaning, savoring the pleasure of a bite instead of tanking up with a batch, seeing even a cookie as a gift from the one who made it – who baked it in my own oven and Who created it into the planet from the beginning, as a sign of my ultimate end in God.

In this day when everything is degraded with an outright joke or ironic lilt, fasting is radical seriousness about life. Keep going. Even if you are in a bad mood and think drinking that beer you vowed not to drink will make you feel better, that is a great struggle. If you drink the beer, you will see what kind of “better” you feel, if you keep listening. If you don’t drink the beer, you will see what it all means that way, too. God is good.

For those of you who have gotten this far in reading and have never heard of Lent, fasting or Circle of Hope: welcome to our party! We are having a rich life together with Jesus. He is leading us through death into life, and there are many roads to His good end. Right now we are realizing that our sufferings are not for nothing. As a matter of fact, recognizing them in the safety of our Savior’s presence brings them meaning and restores our sense that the future is full of promise. In fasting, for instance, we embrace the sufferings that emerge when we leave open space for God to fill our emptiness. You have gotten this far! I hope you will keep going.

[Check out Circle of Hope Daily Prayer :: WIND or WATER for Holy Week options each day: the gathering, on your own, in a cell or in the family]

A version of this post originally appeared at Circle of Hope’s blog.

Damn the spiritual torpor!: Resist acedia

[Warning: obscure historical reference with mild linkage to Philadelphia ahead].

Our church is full of people committed to being full-on Christians. That’s great! Last week their imagination and love was flooding out all over. June has not vacationed them into a stupor at all.

But there is danger. Some of us are running in to what has always tormented radicals:

  • Once you are no longer aspiring to discipleship, because you are basically there…
  • Once you are no longer gulping in knowledge about life in Christ, because you already have it…
  • Once you are no longer strikingly tempted, because you have overcome the big stuff…

what happens?

It is easy to get bored.

I mean, really,

  • how many meetings can one attend,
  • sing moderately-produced songs,
  • listen to speeches that don’t offer any surprises,
  • and have conversations with people whose next words can be predicted

before that seems rather old?

The radicals we call the desert fathers and mothers, saw this post-conversion sense of being OK, or just static, as one of the most dangerous places to be, as far as life in the Spirit goes. They would actually court temptation; they would really dig in to their desires and passions — because in the process of overcoming temptation they were acquiring essential energy. Whenever we’re bored around God or God’s people, we’re in danger. Whenever we feel self-pity or ennui because our spiritual experiences aren’t what they used to be, we’re under attack. Whenever we are just on “off” because we’ve let ourselves drift into torpor, we’re in trouble.

Check for acedia

Sermons and small group discussion can be a real danger zone for torpor. If you become accustomed to falling asleep during them, or if they seem like a lot of “blah, blah, blah” it is a good time to check for acedia. Teaching and dialogue will always be important. But once you’ve been taught and once you’ve had the dialogue — that can be a dangerous part of the journey.

There are many reasons we might find ourselves wandering into spiritual danger. It comes from not developing good judgment, not confessing our sin, not confronting our excuses, or not gaining understanding about how to deal with difficult circumstances so our hearts can stay soft.

Once we confront those dangers, we will certainly be saved, but that is just the beginning. It is exercising mercy and love that breaks through our scabs, confusion and hardness and helps us heal and develop. Sitting around being smart about the faith or just being well-processed psychologically often leads us to boredom. Aren’t quite a few of us smart, therapized and listless right now? Acting in mercy and love and truly receiving it keeps us energized. John has got it right when he says, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).  Anything else leads to isolation and that feeling you get when you are in a room full of people and you just don’t want to connect.

Vivian van Blerk, The Seven Capital Vices : Acedia (Sloth), 2008
Vivian van Blerk, The Seven Capital Vices : Acedia (Sloth), 2008

The well-recognized roads to acedia are even broader in our era because people are not conversant in sin. The rules now say, “You’re OK.” And, really, no one is supposed to say much about whether they think that is true. So when we are confronted with the feeling that something is wrong, we tend to say, “I’m OK, so this feeling must be someone else’s fault or something else’s influence.” Like the picture above suggests, we end up alone on our chaise, zoning on TV, always in reach of the fridge, perfectly “OK.” Our wide choices of distracting media give us endless opportunity to engage in conversation about nothing, watching stories that have been repeated a hundred times. We end up in despair, since we are supposedly OK, but it does not feel like that. We stop working on being forgiven, since prevailing thinking says there is no need for forgiveness. So it is more,  “Pass the Doritos” for us. (Or “Pass the Garden of Eatin’ Organic Blue Tortilla Chips,” if “the Garden of Eatin'” that what what passes for spirituality with you, now).

Damn the spiritual torpor!

So often we have a great deal to bring to the community and its mission, but we are just too spiritually exhausted and relationally put-upon to offer it. Instead of seeing our burnout, resistance and resentment as temptation, which could fuel change and renewal, we come late to the meeting, plan a vacation, or take a pill for our “depression.” But I say, “Damn the spiritual torpor!”

[Here’s the obscure reference]. Most days I ride my bike on a street near my house named Farragut. He’s the civil war admiral who said, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” He was charging through a minefield in Mobile Bay. I wrote this piece with Farragut in mind. We have our own spiritual minefields to move through:

  • submerged temptations to stop being radical because that’s a lot to deal with
  • resistance to something new because to get to it we’d have to move through what is
  • fear of relational dangers that seem impossible to navigate
  • homeostasis in some infantile spirituality

We could sit outside the battle in torpor. Damn the spiritual torpor! Let’s wrestle with the temptations, instead, and cooperate with our development.