Monday, January 19, 2009

In Timing There Is Advantage

It was Ireneus who said it: "In order there is harmony, in harmony there is timing, in timing there is advantage." I first really took note of this bit of advice in the early 80's, around the time God also said, more directly, by way of locution: "Consider all I have not yet let you do."
Ireneus was the bishop of Lyon, in the fourth century, a very lovely writer, generally considered the father of theology, that most necessary of sciences, that is also so widely ignored and under-appreciated, and nowhere more wretchedly than in the ranks of so many of the Church Militant.
What so many priests, religious, and so-called lay leaders practice is not theology, but a kind of middle class - or worse, working class - quasi psychology, which they are far too fond of calling "spirituality". (Here follows a long string of asterisks, or maybe blanks. It was Zane Grey who first taught me such euphemistic devices.)
Perhaps I am unjust to say working class QP is worse than middle class, because what is really the worst is academic QP in the hands of professors, especially Catholics. I will give you an example.
Some years ago, my youngest daughter, before she got effing good and tired of the so-called history faculty at UBC, because it had fallen into blaming all the ills of mankind on the Church, was pursuing an arts degree at the campus where her parents met, and in the process of that pursuit took a semester on the subject of mysticism. The course was taught by a consortium of Catholics teaching at the university, one of them even a priest.
Now as far as I know, according to the research facilities that have so far been available to my profoundly scrupulous mind, there is only one area in the world where the highest degrees of the mystical life are fully understood, according the whole mind of the Catholic Church, and that area is the home - and its one adjunct - in which my youngest grew up. That experience, of course, does not guarantee the same level of understanding in her, as she would be the first to admit. She has in fact known a few special moments with certain extraordinary events, but she has no wish to make as much of these as certain published and promoted professional theologians have done in their own case and generally goes about her vocation as a wife and mother in an ordinarily devout manner.
Was the UBC consortium simply trying to save her a test to her humility by not inviting her father to say a word or two to the tiny class? Were the Basilians too anxious over their own West Coast turf? Were they envious of the man who used to sit in ecstasy with the legendary Father Carr, in his last days? Was the archbishop of the day too attached to his innovative state of mind to be able to tolerate what might happen in his domain if Christ showed up and decided to take again the whip to the money changers in the temple? They are always with us, like the poor, and the Transformation, even hidden, scares the crap out of them, even if they can't admit it.
What's this got to do with Ireneus?
Well, the real professor has had a question from someone named Irene. The test of the real columnist, right? Irene writes to ask about accidie. Her spelling was actually "acedia", which threw me off until I dug out sufficient dictionaries, which proved that we were on the same page. I knew it as the former, long ago from my studies of the medievalists, when I learned that dear old Thomas Aquinas listed five cures. The Greek has akedia, which means "not caring", being full of spiritual sloth or indifference, which is not quite what Thomas was thinking of, as far as I
understand. For Thomas, sloth was a deadly sin, although he was not talking sloth in the same way as certain work-ethic-addicted Protestants do. In the real sense, sloth is simply the refusal to give thanks for the Divine. It is one of the great curses of modern times, if not all times, and is not really offset, by the way, by leisure activities, even amongst spectacular scenery, that are considered by the young and even not-so-young as the equivalent of getting one's sinful, humble, butt into a pew. Nor do the arts fill the bill as the equal of honest worship.
But back to the question and my history with the problem. To the medievials, accidie was principally the result of too much reading, or circular thinking that could not lead to a healthy activity. In our times, thanks to technology, it might also be said to be a result of the lack of necessary work, either about the shop, the farm, the house. But to return to myself - and that was where the question was directed - it has always been the threat brought on by too much intellectual activity that is only practical and has nothing to do with passive prayer.
For this sort of ego trip, Thomas was strong on such things as a warm bath, a stroll, a conversation with friends, a bottle of wine.
And then Teresa of Avila said that there were times when the only thing you could do was to pick up a broom, although she was also known to take up a tambourine and have her nuns dance.
But that was before the modern era of radio, TV, and now household access through DVD's to the best in the writers and actors of world class drama, comedy, and documentary. I hear of some semi-religious order in Rome that disdains such opportunities to get out of its own head.
Much better, I think, to follow the advice of our new bishop, although he was admittedly speaking in another context. "You use what you've got."
And what I've got is a grandson who's taken a lot of administrative pressure regarding music off the theologian so he can get back to the best of what he has, that being theology. And just in time for the question from Irene. Now, that's timing.

1 comment:

cabbage ears said...

At its Greek root, the word acedia means the abscence of care. The person afflicted by acedia refuses to care or is is incapable of doing so. When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine: you know the pain is there, yet cant rouse yourself to give a damn...Please excuse the lack of punctuation, my computer does this at a certain time. I do not know why. The quote is from a book called...A Marriage, Monks, and A Writers Life...Acedia& Kathleen Norris. I appreciated the book. Hence the question. Punctuation on my computer reverts to some spanish type print after midnite. Go figure. I wont. Respectfully, Irene

Apparently acedia affected monks at a certain time of day.