Thinking Faith, the online journal of the English Jesuits, has published an extract from Abbot Christopher Jamison’s new book Finding Happiness, in which he discusses the “seven deadly sins” or Saint John Cassian’s teaching on the thoughts, the relationship between thoughts and actions, and in particular on the neglect of acedia in contemporary culture. Abbot Jamison is the Benedictine abbot of Worth Abbey in England who shot to media prominence as a result of the BBC television series The Monastery. Despite my general hesitance about monastic media stars (or media stars generally) he says some worthwhile stuff and I was, despite my initial hesitations, rather impressed with how he handled The Monastery.
Spiritual carelessness seems to me to underlie much contemporary unhappiness in Western culture. The word is no longer used not because the reality is obsolete but because we have stopped noticing it. We are too busy to be spiritually self-aware and our children grow up in a culture that suffers from collective acedia. Acedia has so established itself that it is now part of modernity.
A parallel can be drawn with the world of medicine. Before the discovery of germs, hygiene was not considered essential so many deaths were caused by infections that nobody could see. Once the existence of germs had been identified, physical hygiene became rigorous and lives were saved. Similarly, the cause of much unhappiness lies hidden from view but is truly present. Our demons are unseen thoughts that make us unhappy and spiritual hygiene is as necessary as medical hygiene if these diseases of the soul are to be healed. But we are a spiritually unhygienic society. While we know that we must find time to brush our teeth, to visit the doctor and to take exercise, we have no such shared conviction about the need for spiritual exercises.
Even monks and nuns can experience the temptation to forget about the spiritual life. In one ancient collection of stories about the desert fathers and mothers, the very first story begins with a surprising statement about the most famous monk of all. ‘When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by acedia.’ Towards the end of that same collection Amma Syncletica offers the insight that ‘acedia is full of mockery.’ Our society is ‘full of mockery’ towards those who insist on the reality of the soul and its essential disciplines, disciplines which have been preserved almost uniquely by the best of the world’s religious traditions but which are scorned by increasingly strident atheist commentators.
Our culture implies that indulging the Seven Deadly Sins is the way to happiness; more food, more things and more sex combined with personal aggression and vanity are the way to happiness. This is the message hitting us day by day. The good news is that most people in their heart of hearts know this message is a lie but many lack the means to live out an alternative. This spiritually careless culture does not have to run our lives, however, and helping people to overcome our culture’s endemic acedia is one of the key tasks of the Church today.
Go and read the whole article here.