Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Retreat Report

Continuing to put the talks together--I have tomorrow's ready (and the next two days' as well!), which leaves me the final two, and a surfeit of time for the task. 
In general, the topic is ongoing conversion. A "penitent heart" is a heart that hears and responds to the Gospel, which begins with a hearty "Repent!" Naturally, there are obstacles. One of the most insidious is the topic of Kathleen Norris' wonderful book, The Noonday Demon. (It's much better than it sounds!) The old desert mystics called this "noonday demon" acedia (later identified as plain old sloth, but really much more than mere laziness). Finally, today, I recognized that this is none other than what the spiritual masters in the western tradition, especially from around the 1600's on to about 1950, bemoaned as "tepidity." I find the notion of acedia to be a bit deeper, and way more useful, even if tepidity has the advantage of being related to a dramatic biblical image...
Norris writes about an experience she had: “I did not recognize it as a temptation, something that I could resist. I was not aware that even as I maintained a busy and productive life, sloth [as it has been named] had a firm grip on me. For I had become aware that it was possible to reject time, as well as embrace it. If I wanted to, I could live just barely, refusing the gift of each day” (p 12). Russian Orthodox liturgist Alexander Schmemann (another favorite of mine) writes in his journal, “The basic disease is sloth. It is that strange laziness and passivity of our entire being...which constantly convinces us that no change is possible and therefore desirable. It is in fact a deeply rooted cynicism which to every spiritual challenge responds, 'What for?' and makes our life one tremendous spiritual waste. It is the root of all sin because it poisons the spiritual energy at its very source.” 
If you've read any old western spirituality, sermons, exhortations, and the like, doesn't that sound just like the tepidity they warn against? Something in us just wants to be left alone! We want to live like "normal." The Carmelite writer Ruth Borrows (in “The Essence of Prayer”) wrote that we ought not assume that what seems “normal” or “natural” is, in fact, innocuous—that our unquestioned assumptions are very likely to be hiding places for primordial selfwardness: self-centered, self-seeking, self-serving.
Naturally, we tend to resist.

And we don't only have one of these passages to go through in life. Our inner life can be traced as a series of these conversions that we experience as death-matches. While we live in time, we are called to continuing conversion of mind and heart; to continually be transformed by the renewal of our mind.
Do you find the concept of "acedia" more spiritually helpful and hopeful than that of tepidity? How, why, why not? 

Books referenced here:

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