"God showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand… and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: 'What can this be?' And it was generally answered thus: 'It is all that was made.' It was so small I thought it might disappear, but I was answered... everything has being through the love of God." --Julian of Norwich
Thursday, March 3, 2011
A Moment in the Confessional
For the past week or so, the Lord has been convicting me of a sinful tendency to acedia. It's that pesky sin of sloth that Kathleen Norris has written about so well in recent years. In The Quotidian Mysteries (which I've been reading again) she states, "the word acedia is not much in use these days--the American Heritage Dictionary defines it as 'spiritual torpor or apathy; ennui'--but I wonder if much of the frantic boredom and ennervating depression that constitute an epidemic in modern life are not merely the ancient demon of acedia in contemporary dress." I like her treatment of acedia better in Mysteries than I do in her later, full-length book Acedia and Me, because in this book she succinctly and directly contrasts acedia with it's opposite, the meaningful daily work that we must do to care for our "ordinary, daily, bodily needs."
The person who gives in to the demon of acedia (demon, sin, bad thought, the Eastern Orthodox Desert Fathers saw these as the same general force of evil in our lives), is overcome with an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction and hopeless distraction from the good tasks at hand. As Evagrius wrote, acedia "makes it seem that the sun hardly moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long. Then it constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from [lunchtime]." The Desert Fathers wrote about it quite a bit, since monks and others who have as Norris puts it, "a vocation that is inner directed and requires one to spend a good deal of time alone" are especially susceptible. She connects it particularly to her life as a poet and writer.
This is where my conviction comes in. I am a writer. To say this is a kind of confession in itself because I am reluctant to take the label. For many years I've indulged in an of idolatry of writers, as though they were super-human or something and a selfish pride in my own writing abilities. But all the while, this idolatry and pride was neat way out of the right use of my vocation and gifting to actually write. Sure, I got excited about the idea of writing. And I even enjoyed writing when I got to play with words in moments of inspiration alongside my work of teaching or studying. But now that my only tasks this semester are to write and to keep house--something I've been longing for and looking forward to--acedia has set in.
You see, the problem is: writing is good, hard work. A writer is basically anyone who can get their butt in a chair long enough to do this good, hard work of sifting through words and trying to tell the truth with them. But acedia whispers in my ear "Just five minutes on Facebook, then you can get to work." Or, at this special stage in my life, "You're tired. Why don't you just research what you'll need for the baby online for a few minutes?" You might sense a theme here. It is a different kind of "window" on the world that I turn to in my distraction.
I'm turning into an Internet addict (it's never just five minutes... it's hours). I've been trying to "test the spirits" behind this and I've found that at the heart of my addiction is a spiritual unrest, a turning away in fear from the good calling God has given me to work on a specific writing task right now, and a desperation for distraction until the next mealtime or time to go to bed. And in the mean time, I neglect not only my writing, but also my ordinary, daily, bodily needs. Yes, I'm pregnant and need rest, but I sit like a couch potato in front of the screen all day--that's not rest. A little vaccuming, mopping or doing the dishes would be good, mild exercise, something I need anyway. Then I'll have more energy for the time well-spent at the screen, writing.
It wasn't enough to just acknowledge this bad thought and wrong action to myself, that didn't keep me off the Internet. I felt I needed to confess it to others. Perhaps not so that you can pester me the next time you see me on Facebook (I'll probably give it up for Lent anyway), but, yes, so you can keep me accountable: chat with me about my writing progress, ask what scene I'm working on now, find out what's exciting about my project (perhaps giving me some lovely new inspiration!). I love talking about my baby too, but my first due date, well, that's for another 35 pages of new writing at least to the second draft stage... A tall order for the next month! Pray for me!