Acedia thrives in nervous activity

"The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things," by Hieronymus Bosch. (Public domain)

The most recent issue of Logia (Volume XXX #4) has an article entitled "Compassion Fatigue: A Problem for Pastors" by Rev. Jerome T. Gernander, an ELS pastor. The focus of the article is on compassion fatigue in Pastors - recognizing it and then providing some helps to deal with it. I generally disagree with his laissez faire take on the Church's reactions to COVID but his assessment of Acedia (sloth) is spot on. 

The punch line is on page 25. Gernander is quoting Dorothy Sayers from her book Letters to a Diminished Church:

"It is one of the favorite tricks of this sin to dissemble itself under the cover of a whiffling activity of the body. We think that if we are busily rushing about and doing things, we cannot be suffering from sloth."

To which Gernander responds

"Therefore acedia thrives in nervous activity..."

Gernander also quoted Kathleen Norris from her book Acedia and Me: Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life. She is discussing Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth-century desert monk:

"He spoke clearly of the inner devastation caused by the demon of acedia when it "[made] it seem like the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long." Boredom tempts him "to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine [the lunch hour]". But Evagrius soon discovered that this seemingly innocuous activity has an alarming and ugly effect, for having stirred up the restlessness that he is unable to shake, the demon taunts him with the thought that his efforts at prayer and contemplation are futile. Life then looms like a prison sentence, day after day of nothingness."

To which Gernander responds

"Calling it a demon is an important insight"

Indeed. While we have a tendency to spiritualize difficult biblical teachings or commands that feel too difficult to bear (Hebrews 10:25 goes from meeting together in person to meeting online during COVID), we lose something when we fall off the other side of the horse and fail to recognize demons exist and are active in our world. 

Luther is quoted as saying he "threw his inkwell at the Devil." While this may be a euphemism for the 95 theses or other polemics against the Roman Catholic church, it's quite possible it is not apocryphal. We seem to have lost the meaning of Paul's admonition in Ephesians 6:5 "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."

(Then again, some hold that the demon might just be a euphemism for Philipp Melanchthon­čśü)

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