I cannot remember a Paschal season where I have been in such spiritual doldrums. The joy of Bright Week was obscured by an overwhelming tiredness and the let down from my manic rush to attend as many services as possible and get prepared for the celebration of the Feast. Now here it is, two-and-a-half weeks later and I still haven’t recovered my spiritual equilibrium. There is a light that just feels like it’s been blown out and I’m floundering. Prayer is a chore, church is a chore, writing is a chore…pretty much life is a chore right now.
Sounds pathetic doesn’t it?
I could put it down to my busy personal life, work and family stress, health worries or a touch of depression and anxiety. It’d be even easier to just blame the devil, but I think our spiritual life is much more complicated than that. Yes, all those things are real problems and should be addressed. But spiritual malaise, or by its fancy name – acedia, has a lot of causes – some internal, some external.
St. John Cassian in the Philokalia identifies acedia among eight vices that lead monks (and laypeople) astray, including numbers five (gloominess) and six (acedia, also known as listlessness or low spirits). I’d say I can pretty well self-diagnose myself as suffering from numbers five and six. But it’s kind of hard to personally admit that ones gloominess isn’t just a spiritual condition, kind of like identifying depression as a brain chemical disruption. A medical diagnosis takes out any personal responsibility – you can’t be responsible for your body’s disfunction. Somehow, though, when you label spiritual gloominess as a ‘vice” it takes away the victim mentality and makes you an active enabler of your own problem. My condition isn’t all just a big post holiday let down, it’s a real spiritual flaw that requires self-examination, discipline and pro-active remedies.
St. John Cassian sees his eight vices as forming a chain, all different but linked together in their deliterious effects on the soul.
Wherefore, in order to overcome acedia, first get the better of gloominess; in order to get rid of gloominess, anger must first be expelled; in order to quell anger, covetousness must be trampled underfoot; in order to root out covetousness, fornication must be checked; and in order to destroy fornication, you must chastise the sin of gluttony.
Well, is that all. So, just when I thought I’d been progressing spiritually through Great Lent, things fall apart after the celebration of Pascha. Great. (I know, I know, never try to gauge yourself on spiritual progress) Is malaise or acedia normal? It must be more common than I think because I’m not that special spiritual-wise. I guess when you start thinking of yourself as having unique problems, you can go ahead and add the vices of pride and vainglory. In any event, St. Cassian is a little thin spelling out the methods for conquering acedia. This definitely sounds like it requires the help of a spiritual professional – my priest. They aren’t just there for celebrating Liturgy and giving out blessings, you know. I think I’ll give mine a good pastoral workout this week.
Poor man – pray for him. He’s gonna need it.