September 2, 2009

Acedia on the Web

When I was on retreat recently, the monk who heard my confession suggested to me that I pay attention to struggles with the vice of acedia. As I have tried to do so, one thing that has occurred to me over and over in my examinations is that the internet is a very dangerous tool in the hands of this particular 'bad thought.'

The great Evagrius Ponticus describes the struggle with this most dangerous passion:

The demon of acedia, also called the noonday demon, [see Psalm 91:6] is the most oppressive of all the demons. He attacks the monk towards the fourth hour and besieges the soul until the eighth hour. He begins by giving the impression that the sun is hardly moving, or not moving at all, and that the day has at least forty hours. After this, he continually draws the monk to his window; he forces him to go out of his cell to look at the sun and calculate how much time still separates him from the ninth hour (the hour of Vespers and the meal), and finally to look about here and there to see if some brother is not coming to see him...


This resonates very much with my own experience of struggles with this particular passion. The beginning of the attack of acedia comes as an invitation to divert one's attention from the prayer, work, or charity at hand and to pay attention to something else, which might be entirely innocent or even useful in itself. This is what Evagrius is talking about when he says that acedia urges the monk to look at the window to see if anything is going on, and finally to gaze about to see if anyone is coming to visit him.

It's very easy to let one's web browser become one of Evagrius's windows out of the cell. Even though I know that there are prayers to be made, things to do, people and projects to look after and books to read, something inside suggests that it would be good to open up some Firefox tabs and check the tropical storm activity out in the Atlantic one more time, check for Roman-Seraphic liturgical books on Ebay, or read another Wikipedia article about some entirely random topic, like the history of Dr. Pepper, the Gregorian calendar reform, or the geology of the moon.

Then, just as Evagrius outlines, the next thing you know is that you find yourself distracted and spiritually dissipated. And if you're anything like me, it's difficult to get a day back on track once this happens. This is why acedia has to be discerned quickly through a practice of vigilant guard of the heart, so that it may be cut off at its seemingly innocent beginning.

11 comments:

Karinann said...

Br. Charles,
Thanks for this post. I think this noonday demon affects many of us, not just monks. The explosion of the internet, blogging etc. has made it much easier to fall prey to this demon.

GrandmaK said...

Br. Charles, I too want to thank you for this post. It seems that there are days when MY attention end in spending too much time at this desk and not enough time in service and prayer! This is a timely reflection for me! Cathy

Snupnjake said...

Has never even heard of Acedia....

Brother Charles said...

The eight passions: gluttony, lust, greed, sorrow, wrath, acedia, vainglory, and pride.

Brother said...

A great reminder to stay focused. Thank you for this.

Rachel Gray said...

So the eight passions are the seven deadly sins with sorrow added? That's interesting...

BOY, do I know what you mean about acedia. Comes from the internet for me too. Once when I confessed it I got grounded from the web for a week, and blogged it here.

Brother Charles said...

Everybody: follow Rachel's link. It's worth the inspiration!

pennyante said...

Okay, okay.... I'll get off my computer and vacuum the rugs (which I have been puting off)!!! Yes, the internet is terribly addictive... Your article was right on target for more than a few of us. Thanks...

BTW, I had to look up acedia... I remember this sin as sloth... I like acedia better...

Anonymous said...

Pray always, Saint Paul writes.So you can be vacuuming and still be in a spiritual acedia.It has more to do with loss of enthusiasm,joy and love for God...during work and prayers....acedia is not distractions.

4narnia said...

i've never heard of Acedia, either, Fr. C. but, now that i've read this intersting post, maybe the following passage from Sacred Scripture will help: (i received this passage from Sacred Scripture in an e-mail today, so maybe it's meant to be shared): "But I most gladly will spend and be spent myself for your souls; although loving you more. I be loved less." ~2 Corinthans 12:15~ PEACE! ~tara t~

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, I saw on the History Channel special on the 7 deadly sins that "dispair" was among them at first, which then was replaced by acedia (sloth). I remember a quote from St Anthony the desert father, who remarked something to, "the most difficult thing about monastic life is the constant attack from demons."