Acedia is the Heavy Hand of God
Aquinas says of the vice of acedia:
Acedia, according to Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii, 14) is an oppressive sorrow, which, to wit, so weighs upon man's mind, that he wants to do nothing…Hence acedia implies a certain weariness of work, as appears from a gloss on Psalm 106:18, "Their soul abhorred all manner of meat," and from the definition of some who say that acedia is a "sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good."
There are seasons where I cannot write, cannot think, cannot speak. Undoubtedly this is the participation of my conscience with the Holy Spirit, though in these days it is hard to distinguish between the two. It is real vanity to love when you are not loving the source of love. When I try to write, but I am ignoring my savior, what comes of it? What comes of love when I have forgotten love?
I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
In my experience, the words of others sting. My words sting. When my words are not stinging, they seem like a waste of time. I look at conversations with friends like traps set for sin. I try to do do life on my own. I tell myself, “I am going to spend this week in my room, writing through this depression or acedia or whatever you want to call it. But whatever you call it, it is a hatred of what I used to love.” And then nothing comes of it. God has taken away from me the ability to write and discuss things I love. In these seasons, when I go to write, I can’t. And what largely prevents me from doing so is the knowledge, or rather the conviction, that nothing comes of it. When I do manage to eke out a bit, it tastes bitter in my mouth.
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!
What has saved me time and time again from this hatred of what is lovable and estimable is the turn back to God. God is the one who gave me my passions and abilities to pursue them. This isn’t just about writing. This is about digging into portions of the world in conversation with friends without the feeling that I am a self raw to words. My thoughts will be confused, I can hardly put together a sentence. And I throw up my hands, because why should I think? Why should I put together a sentence?
Every moment suddenly becomes an opportunity for accusation. I seem to be constantly doing wrong, am always putting my foot in my mouth, always offending others, always ruining good things, never working hard enough, never skilled enough, never find satisfaction. I am lazy, self-centered, and egotistical and I despise myself for it all. I think that sleeping will give me an out from my recursive thinking, but I wake up and have slept in too long and the laundry list of all my responsibilities grows because I am not there. I am somewhere inside.
The Psalmist recognizes how all moments are moments for sin. That is why he silences himself. All is not just vapor, but sin. But instead of turning to the Lord, it is a natural human impulse to guard your own ways, a natural human impulse to take your holiness into your own hands. So you put a muzzle over your mouth. You silence yourself. What we are doing here is choosing a punishment that we think will be the right way of living. Living under the punishing hand of the Lord is no way to live. We think we are choosing peace when we silence ourselves, but what we are instead choosing is the punishment of the Lord.
I was mute and silent; I held my peace to no avail, and my distress grew worse. My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!
The punishments of the Lord bear fruit. What fruit is born of silence? Our hearts burn with fire. We cannot remain silent. We cannot remain silent, because we are supposed to be seeking the Lord with our words. So we burst out, as the Psalmist does, tired of silence, and we ask God to show us the measure of our days. We are tired, we are looking for rest, and there is no rest to be found in silence. There is only the burning of our hearts. We finally recognize that we have tried to take holiness into our own hands and our efforts have not saved us from our own transgressions. We demand deliverance from our transgressions! The man who serves the Lord did not transgress when he went silent, because it was in part his acceptance of the rebuke. We choose the rebuke as we choose our own strength and the pain that comes from the rebuke is feeling the absence of the Lord and his love. So we speak again and what we speak are our requests.
When was the last time we came to the Lord with our requests? We did not come to the Lord in our silence. We were praying to ourselves then. Maybe it is not sin to speak to yourself and have internal monologues. Maybe it is not sin to conceive of a self inside. But for the man who is not speaking to his Lord, it is sin. How many months can the man of God go ignoring the Holy Spirit inside of him? It is no sin to compose as you walk, but even these compositions would shimmer more brightly if directed to the source of love. It is not sin to wonder why someone spoke something or wonder if you had spoken wrongly to a friend, it is no sin to untangle your feelings. But if there is any real sin to confess, will you be able to forgive yourself? If there is a past circumstance you cannot get out of your head, will you be able to remove it? Can you save yourself? Can you know what is going on inside of you?
And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool!
Why do you indulge internal monologues when you could pray instead? Is that self going to help you? Pray to God. The roads of all internal monologues lead to the paradise of an accusing spirit. Accusing spirits walk the roads of internal monologues. It is better to pray to God about what concerns you than to be concerned. God lifts all burdens, but you have to go to him. How many moods have you been in that were undiagnosable? But God will diagnose your illness and the Holy Spirit will intercede for you, o mute and deaf self, with groans too deep for words. We cannot put words to our lives sufficiently.
We cannot map out this world when the world is a map obscured. Do you know why rainy days make you want to cry? Do you know why Friday night depresses you? Who is it in you that says you have to leave where you are? Where does this come from but an accusing spirit that wants to take the truth of the world’s sadness and make it the excuse you use to ignore the hope that is the solution of your acedia? Where do these moods go but to death if you do not remember the hope? And why does hope do anything? Hope does something, because we need a cure. We need a cure, because there is real sickness. The world has forgotten the Lord and you have replaced the Holy Spirt that fills your vessel with a fictional version of yourself. You speak to yourself. You do not speak to God.
I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it. Remove your stroke from me. I am spent by the hostility of your hand. When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath!
Thank God for making me mute. Thank God for turning my sin into punishment that leads to repentance. Thank God for consuming like a moth what is dear to me. I am spent by the hostility of your hand. Father in heaven, you are no accusing spirit, because accusing spirits offer no forgiveness. And they do not punish or rebuke. They torment. You will not leave me in torment, you will not keep me as a slave to the forces that make me sway and toss and turn on the ocean like a doubting man. Doubt does not come from reason, but from the feeling that you have removed yourself from us and will not return. Father, you are the God of clarity and you will shine a light in the dark places. The dark places are full of ambiguities and sins that have no contours. They cannot be confessed. You expose the deeds of darkness in my heart, so that what was intangible is made visible and by being visible, it can be removed.
Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry. Hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers. Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!
There is deep sadness in this world and we depart from it quickly. To say that all is vapor and smoke and breath, to say that our lives are short, this is the real beginning of your mercy. You are a merciful God. You will not let us live here forever. We are sojourners with you in this world. When we say that all is vapor, when we look at the deeds of goodness and the deeds of darkness and say, “This will all pass away,” we rejoice. We sit in the house of mourning, because all things are like death here. And you will tear away the sky like a blanket. You will put us to rest. Blessed be your name! Blessed be the God who holds us after we pass away, blessed be the God who chose to put his breath into vessels of smoke, so that when the smoke of our lives passes away, there is still this breath.
All passes away like smoke. Therefore what is evil will pass away like smoke. The great promise is that what is perishable will inherit the imperishable. The whole world has been thrown into the fire. You remove the dross through death. Only your Spirit in us will remain, because your Spirit cannot die.