Sunday Letter: The gift of holy influence
George MacDonald Commentary.
Whatever it be that keeps the finer faculties of the mind awake, wonder alive, and the interest above mere eating and drinking, money-making and money-saving ; whatever it be that gives gladness or sorrow, or hope, — is simply a divine gift of holy influence for the salvation of that being to whom it comes, for the lifting of him out of the mire and up on the rock.
– George MacDonald
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Rev 3:15-16)
If you have great desire: ambition for success, yearning for beauty, the adrenaline rush of adventure, delight in competition, pleasure in eating and drinking, all of these things, while they can be vices (avarice, lust, wrath, envy, gluttony, and so on), are part of who we are as creatures made by God. The key to spiritual therapy is not killing of the desire, for most desires, being a connection to our wills, are gifts from God. In the case of sinful desire we are to redirect those desires towards Godly things. Those desires which have taken on evil ends, can be countered, redeemed, through active exercise of charity, chastity, patience, gratitude, temperance.
But what of the inverse of what MacDonald speaks of? Those who have lost all wonder, have sleeping minds, and have lost interest in, well, most things.
That is Sloth.
“That’s just, like, your opinion, man.” – The Dude.
One of the major ideas in Desert Patristics, and most spiritual formation, is understanding that:
You are not your thoughts.
You, created in the image of God, are the Will that acts.
Your Will chooses what to do with your thoughts and behaviours.
Ascetical Theology is based upon training and strengthening the Will.
Sanctification is the Will that is increasingly turning its focus towards God.
“The spiritual life consists in no more and no less than a repeated decision to be a certain kind of person in every waking moment, every given situation.” —Norvene Vest
It can be argued, then, that one of the most dangerous vices that prevents the salvation of a soul—inhibits sanctification—is not active (or outward) vice, but passive (or inward) vice. Paul himself, zealous in all things, redirected such an active will from persecuting Christians to risking his own life for the sake of Christians. His will was redirected in his conversion and life of repentance.
The insidiousness of the present age is the prevalence of depression and apathy. These are dangerous voids which are somewhat obscure in how they are redirected, especially in the process of conversion.
Fr Stephen Freeman:1
If you search patristic material you may wonder where the references to depression and anxiety are. They are hidden in a word that is quite common: acedia (sometimes spelled “accidie”). It is described as the most difficult of all the passions and garnered the nickname “the noonday devil.” Here is a brief description from St. John Cassian:
He looks about anxiously this way and that, and sighs that none of the brethren come to see him, and often goes in and out of his cell, and frequently gazes up at the sun, as if it was too slow in setting, and so a kind of unreasonable confusion of mind takes possession of him like some foul darkness.
Gabriel Bunge, the Orthodox hermit and scholar on the works of Evagrius, offers this understanding of what he terms “despondency:”
Acedia manifests itself, then, as a type of slackening of the natural powers of the soul. Evagrius defines it in exactly the same way: Spiritual despondency is a slackness (atonia) of the soul, namely a limpness of the soul, which does not possess what is appropriate to its nature.
The way through Acedia is activity: continuing through one’s apathy, which often seeks after pain—despondency—as stimulus for want of pleasure. For a monk who has lost all will to do his prayers, and attend the Offices, or do his chores, the way through it is hard, and it takes more willpower than it does for others doing the exact same thing. But the reward is the training of the will towards desire. The will exercised, begins, step by step, to have desires. Out of these desires, the Divine influence can be better cooperated with, as these desires, when directed towards righteousness, are “for the lifting of him out of the mire and up on the rock.”
“Acquire the Spirit of Peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.”
– St. Seraphim of Sarov