Are you suffering from what R.J. Snell calls the unbearable lightness of being? Where the insistence on personal freedom repulses commitment and its humanizing effects? Are you jaded by the unrelenting noise of marketing, and in-your-face advertising that is so blatant it is not even seductive? Are you now indifferent to protean meanings of words or, worse, their meaninglessness? Have you resigned yourself to an existence of ever changing, ever new, ever empty distraction? Are you essentially bored with it all?
If so, you may be experiencing what the Desert Fathers called acedia.
Often defined as sloth (itself a capital sin), acedia is worse than the lazy avoidance of responsibility. It borders on despair and even nihilism for it is the willful surrender to what one believes to be the pointlessness of life, an ungrounded existence unmoored to the eternal verities of Truth, Beauty and Goodness.
In religious terms acedia is the rejection of God and hence of order and purpose. To allow oneself to relate in any way to God or to any force (such a morality) that manifests God’s supremacy is perceived to be a limitation of one’s freedom. Acedia is not necessarily inactivity. Indeed, more perniciously, it can be hyperkinetic where one goes from activity to activity, location to location, relationship to relationship, to avoid that emptiness a groundless soul encounters when standing still.
The Desert Fathers advised the eremitic monks that the antidote for acedia (‘the noonday devil’) was to remain in their solitary cells in order to “journey to a reacquaintance” with God. We moderns, unaccustomed to cultivated solitude, require a less formidable solution to the acedia that may numb us. One such solution might be an exposure to the inspiring witness of others who today are making their own “journey to reacquaintance” successfully.
The movement known as Christ in the City (www.christinthecity.co) offers rich example. Founded in 2010 in Denver, this organization provides young adults the opportunity to draw closer to God by serving the indigent homeless and to do so nourished by shared sacramental grace.
What distinguishes the encounter these young “missionaries” have with the homeless is that they “specialize in not only serving the poor but in knowing, loving and serving the poor.” They find that authentic, personal friendship with the poor can be transformative for themselves and for the individuals whom they befriend. Those of you who visit their website will come away inspired.
For those of us who are “bored with it all,” the example of these volunteers is an antidote. The light of their purpose is undimmed. The flavor of their salt is uncompromised. The lift of their leaven is unlevelled. Their passion is vigorous and infectious.
For some the name of the organization, Christ in the City, may bring to mind a certain television series, the vapidity of which has characterized popular entertainment in recent years. For others, it may recall the urban phenomenon that Christianity was in its incipient stages when discipleship took root in such ancient urban gardens as Jerusalem, Rome, Antioch and Alexandria.
Perhaps as the Kingdom advances, Christ in the City will give new meaning to the once familiar phrase Urbi et Orbi – -to the city and to the world.
Dana Robinson is chair of the board of trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.