Sunday, February 1, 2009

No Friend Like an Old Friend

Aristotle says that a man only speaks well of what he actually knows, which means in the case at hand that I have to ask myself how much I actually know about acedia. Can someone who's been a mystic since he was three truly find himself in such a cluttered and sluggish atmosphere of head and heart? That my professedly agnostic father, for example, should find himself acutely bored on a regular basis was a matter of course, but even he could get quickly to doing something about it, and those somethings were usually positive, although not sufficiently intellectual, artistic, or religious.
I did, of course, know, and still can know, profoundly dark moments. How else, for one thing, can we stay in touch with the Cross? But to what degree were these moments simply of the acedic species?
I have actually tried to write, occasionally, about characters in the doldrums. I think this was, for one reason, that I was so little in the acedic regions, and wanted to stretch at least my intellectual experience and sympathies. And perhaps, for another reason, I had an unconscious interest in identifying the real nature of my personal predicament as a veteran of the dark night, none of which I actually understood, through having the vocabulary for, until I was becoming a Catholic.
I went so far, as a matter of fact, to devoting the last two-thirds of a novel to the concept of ennui, oddly enough, at the same time as I myself was rollicking through a most wonderful book called "Father Smith Instructs Jackson", in the summer of 1958. It was good fun. I wrote furiously, and even predicted Shawn and me setting down a year later on Cormorant Island, the land base for Alert Bay, so haunted was I by the dream of returning to Lasqueti, the home of the unconquered piano. The book was not a waste of time. Jack McClelland's editor, the lovely Claire Pratt, sent a note saying that I "wrote well, but should not attempt to rewrite the book, as the character doesn't actually do much." The "wrote well" part impressed my mother-in-law-to-be, and thus the book was worth the effort. But, consider the author's complicated reaction. On the one hand I savoured the comment on the competence with language, on the other I had to admit that I was hardly the do nothing sort, and even rankled at the inference. Probably Claire, daughter of a minister-poet, knew I was trying something on.
But I think I have had my fair share of acedia laid on top of the more adventurous travails of the mystical life, and indeed Kathleen Norris' book just might be a very lovely window on the at last divinely revealed explanation of this. (Dollars to donuts there will be a relevant symbol on tonight's viewing of "Morse".)
Kathleen, by the way, tells a lovely story that is most timely on this date. Once upon a time there was a pseudo-zealous young fellow who entered a monastery, only to find himself profoundly dis-edified at recreation time when he found his brother monks discussing the World Series. To everyone's relief, he did not last long. Nor did he know his Saint Thomas, a man, like Aristotle, and even Saint Paul, aware that all human activity that did not sin was a blessing from God, a sign that there was something else in life beside the work ethic and study only for the sake of academic honours. As I write, the Arizona Cardinals are about to challenge the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl and you can bet that there will be all sorts of angels down along those benches trying to keep those guys from more than their share of injuries.
And speaking of the angels, my old friends, I have to say that they are the reason I could never stay, for longer than a recognizing moment, in the arms of acedia.
In the process of Thomistic research for the sake of dealing with Kathleen's book, I settled, at first, on Thomas' writings about pain and sorrow. Acedia, after all, is a form of sorrow. There is nothing else you can call it. A thing is what it is, as all real metaphysicians will tell you, and all modern dilemmas come from the determination to makes things what they are not. For instance, the new president of the United States seems to think that abortion is a virtue, a solution to social problems. Such a view will produce an unfathomable amount of acedia. And those half-wits in the Middle East are determined to prove that violent aggression can solve geographic and economic problems. More acedia, and no wonder Hell is so over-populated, and Purgatory running on overflow.
And the scum of Africa are illustrating how the slave trade could never have functioned at all if blacks had not been at the bottom of it.
I found great stuff in those sorrow sections of Thomas. That is an infallible likelihood, of course. And, thus, I thought I was off. But not so. That was then, yesterday, and this is now, which means that I had to tuck in with the angels, me old buds. Holy shit. You really want to cross these guys? Read and weep.
As Thomas says, "There must be some incorporeal creatures." This at the beginning of his treatise on the angels: Question 50 in the first part of the Summa.There must be. No dithering here, none of that painful, embarrassing waffling back and forth of my old man, night after night at the dinner table. Of course, my old man was somewhat like Thomas' old man, a soldier in the pay of the emperor who was on the wrong side of the Pope, Frederick II. There must be angels. Man must have incorporeal company, the spirits, who get along just fine without the baggage of bodies. Spirits are the stuff to have at the dinner table, rather than simply material ambitions and off-colour jokes. Spirits are the real reality, flashing back and forth between God and Man, lighting up the ether, inspiring and restoring sanity, life, love, intuition. Carriers of light, harbingers of wiser days to come.
The hermits could only survive because they had the angels for company. And the saints as well, now in heaven existing as pure spirits. No bodies. My my. All those disappointed Islamic terrorists, so plum out of luck when they get to Heaven - if they actually do - only to find out there are no bodies there, especially no bodies of virgins, other than the body of the virgin mother of Christ, who might have things to say to them about the indescriminate dismembering of innocent civilians.
We had a saint around here this morning, a new friend and ally: Felix di Cantalice. Marianne has been studying the Capuchins, and read me out his name this morning, reading the old Catholic Encyclopedia on this computer desk, and when I descended to the kitchen I found myself surrounded by rather a lot of light. I first assumed that Pio was up to his old tricks, but then realized that it was more likely a sign of this new chap I'd never heard of, for all that he was a great buddy of Filippo Neri. It was Felix who made the Capuchins a major force in Rome and vicinity. Excellent choice for the newest member of the board. A big part of his job was begging for the brothers. I feel right at home.
The Capuchins seem to be up to some soul searching over their constitutions. With their recently retired minister general in the immediate vicinity, can the mystics be of any assistance in these deliberations?
There was, by the way, a symbol on Morse. He has to tell his sergeant, Robbie Lewis, that on a previous assignment, with a different chief inspector, they had failed to "keep looking". I'm not at all sure at this moment why this is relevant, but I know it is.

9 comments:

cabbage ears said...

Accidie can be sorrow but it is not sorrow. Accidie paralyzes the the path between the heart, mind and without further mention the soul. But in this of your last posts, accidie is approached with great beauty and fervour. Sorrow approaches with finalities. Accidie approaches in the midst of robust belief. I am so excited that Monica is fine and well. As all her children, I hope. I see her face clearly. Matthew's too. Jeez Ken, I am not faraway. I am in, I think, Thrums. The Kootenays may be my final and resting place. I work five days a week and there is no rest for the ...me... looking forward to the next Kootenay Ranger. Good and valuable stuff....Irene

eastsilica said...

Irene,
I'm intrigued by your sentence,"Accidie approaches in the midst of robust relief." It really caught my eye yesterday and is still with me. One can put a very good face on it, and yet at the same time argue with the interpretation that you might be giving for it. There is a possibility that you are offering a quite acceptable version of some of the most important teachings of John of the Cross. Possibly Kathleen has failed to do this for someone like you. I don't know for sure, of course, because I have read so little of the book.
It is in ch 8 of book one of The Dark Night of the Soul that John starts to explain how God can come with purgation, for the sake of making us wiser and deeper, without any warning and just when we think we have everything in order. I won't quote his passages now, but let me think what you think about this. I have a suspicion that you might just be about to prove why I'm so concerned to take on the book that has provoked you. Think about the word "aridity", meaning dryness. In a sense, this is a good form of accidie, but it is definitely something created by God, whereas accidie is created by man.
Ken

cabbage ears said...

In Chapter 8, (which I do not have) John of the Cross is on the same path as Kathleen. I do suggest that she in the realm of John of the Cross, but vacancy of wisdom and depth exists in those possessed of robust belief. As you have noted in your postings regarding the "fathers" of the Church. As in those that feel the aridity that besets them in moments that can surprise in their intensity of seduction to indifference. Accidie can present as a very high form of indifference and subtle callousness. You celebrated a birthday in January. How fine. Irene

cabbage ears said...

Correction to last post. Should read..." I do not.." Irene

eastsilica said...

Irene,
John of the Cross on the same path as Kathleen? I don't think so, and she would be enormously fortunate if she were only on a very little path of his. He is the master for anyone on the genuine search, most certainly unequelled in any non-Christian religion no matter how otherwise useful, and even unique among the greatest Catholic saints and mystics for his incredible detail of analysis.And he is quite unsurpassed in his defense of the enormous value of the least twinges on the real spiritual life. No one ever existed who has a better handle on mindless activity, especially in highly placed Churchmen, than John of the Cross. He knew well how it led to indifference to the most important things.
But what I have found, for myself, in this exchange with you is to note how JotC uses "aridity".His first use is the positive one, that is, as the designation for that which God has infused into the good soul, to make it better. But he also employs the same term to name acedia. As I have consciously studied acedia so little, I never really caught on to this before. I'll quote now, from the beginning of ch 9.
"But since these aridities might frequently proceed, not from the night and purgation of the sensual desires aforementioned,but from sins and imperfections, or from weakness and lukewarmness, or from some bad humour or indisposition of the body, I shall here set down certain signs by which it may be known if such aridity proceeds from the aforementioned purgation, or if it arises from any of the aforementioned sins. For the making of this distinction I find that there are three principal signs."
Ken

cabbage ears said...

Accidie, in the book that began this dialogue, does not exempt the faithful and committed from the torment of aridity. Accidie is not attributable to baser human desires, not attributable to any general weakness, but a greater test of the belief in a Supreme Being. I am far from able to question John of the Cross. Please do, if time permits, expound on the three principles. I do not think a good case of arthritis leads to accidie. It may; I certainly may be wrong. So...does love really conquer all? regards, Irene

eastsilica said...

Irene,
I'll pass on each of the three signs of real aridity one at a time, as they each take considerable space and a lot of thought. You've sent me into KN's book with a vengeance. I feel a responsibility to take some sections of it apart line by line, for all that she has good intentions.But for now, JotC bk 1, ch 9, para 2:
"The first (sign) is whether, when a soul finds no pleasure or consolation in the things of God, it also fails to find it in any thing created; for, as God sets the soul in this dark night to the end that He may quench and purge its sensual desire, He allows it not to find attraction or sweetness in anything whatsoever. In such a case it may be considered very probable that this aridity and insipidity proceed not from recently committed sins or imperfections. For, if this were so, the soul would feel in its nature some inclination or desire to taste other things than those of God; since, whenever the desire is allowed indulgence in any imperfection, it immediately feels inclined thereto, whether little or much, in proportion to the pleasure and love that it has put into it. Since, however, this lack of enjoyment in things above or below might proceed from some indisposition or melancholy humour, which often makes it impossible for the soul to take pleasure in anything, it becomes necessary to apply the second sign and condition."
Ah, the memories of when this started happening to me, too long before I had a name for it.
Ken

cabbage ears said...

I understand that sensuality and its attendant positives/negatives can lead one to the "dark night of the soul" and then the path back to the greater poignancy of God, what corrects the melancholy and indispositions that silence the connection to the greater glory that becomes God? Please do not ignore your other worthy endeavours to answer this. But I am enjoying the dialogue.

the kootenay ranger said...

Irene,
If you will send me your email address I can forward you some of the stuff I'm sending out that is not on the Ranger.
We are: kslamb@telus.net