Have you ever felt bored on the spiritual journey and wanted to give up? Have you ever felt that the spiritual life is such an unbearable burden of troubles that you just want to put it aside for a more comfortable life? Stay alert, if this is the case, for your invisible enemy – the noonday evil, i.e., Acedia – is knocking at your door.
John Climacus, in his The Ladder of Divine Ascent, alludes to the variety of vicious guiles by which they want to trick us so as to distract us from God. Acedia – one of the eight deadly sins (as was categorized by John) – is a typical example of this. It is named the noonday demon probably because of the physical fatigue, hunger, thirst, and exhaustion that makes the monk’s spirit droop. It is at noon when the sun is unbearably scorching; one’s energy is waning, and despair takes hold of the monk. The monk feels in such a way that his current life is too boring to continue, and that all his labor and toil in the struggle is foolish and futile. He becomes stolid and forgetful of the initial love and zeal which motivates him to retreat to the wilderness. Consequently, he would rather leave for a more comfortable place than to confine himself in the current despair. John describes humorously the states of a monk of acedia as follows: “At the third hour the devil of tedium causes shivering, headache, and vertigo. By the ninth hour, the patient has recovered his strength, and when dinner is ready, he jumps out of bed.” (Step 13)
Not only is acedia caused by such external matters which result in exhaustion of the body, but it is also born out of overemphasizing either religious exercises (e.g., prayers) or manual labors (e.g., working, studying, reaching out to somebody) and neglecting the other. Eventually, the good things he does now become occasions of demonic temptations and guiles.
John Climacus regards acedia as a kind of total death for a monk, and cannot be cured by a particular virtue (Step 13). Hence, no sooner has the monk submitted himself to acedia than he hands himself over to the sword of demons.
In the struggle against acedia, King David is an exemplar of a brave soul. He related in Psalm 63 how he encountered and defeated acedia in the wilderness of Judah where his life was tantamount to a land parched, lifeless, and without water. Amongst hardships in the desert, more than ever his drooping spirit desired water – a kind of life-giving energetic water flowing down from God the fountain of life – that could restore the strength of his soul. His strategy was to cling fast to God as his own fountain of life: His mind was occupied with thoughts of the divine love, and his whole body still ceaselessly worshiped God. What about you? Are you entrapped in the guile of acedia? Are you prepared for a spiritual struggle to save your soul?
Br. Phong Nguyen, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation Ở ĐÂY