Morning, check. But still, the subtleties of decision within routine-! Study first, then write? Write first, then study? Read before everything else? Surely not that… except for reading the newspaper… and then whatever else fits within the waking-time. You see the slippery edges of difficulty here.
[O]f all evil suggestions, the most terrible is the prompting to follow your own heart. –Norris quoting the desert monk Isadore the Priest, Acedia & Me p 138
EXACTLY. It’s such a very sharp two-edged sword. How difficult it is to make sure your heart is currently leaning toward the good, the holy, the whole — into God’s plan-! Do I crave this direction because it will nourish me, or do I head down this path because it’s less challenging? I have struggled with this tension for years — and continue to do so — alongside struggling to articulate my difficulty to my nearest and dearest:
The concept of acedia has always been closely linked with that of vocation. Acedia was, and remains, the monk’s most dangerous temptation, as it makes the life he has vowed to undertake seem foolish, if not completely futile. p43
As one who wants to serve God with her whole self, and serve in ways that build God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven, it matters to me that I do the right things and for the right reasons. That I desire both right things and right reasons–though to be frank I will settle for right things and work on the reasons later. God calls us to bear fruit, and our scriptures warn us that God will pull out the weeds and burn them. Doing futile things is a sure path to that pile of weeds. So I will avoid doing futile things!
You likely can see the yawning hole here, too. “Avoiding doing futile things”–just tighten the sentence by dropping two words and you’re quickly “avoiding doing.” Which could be ok, since you’re avoiding doing the wrong things, but avoiding likely isn’t ok at all. As Norris says about one of her times feeling that
…prayer seems not only a useless activity but also an impediment to freedom. This is truth as the devil tells it, using the lure of being free to be myself to enslave me in a sterile narcissism. p113, emphasis mine
Or the lure of being right–similarly likely to land oneself in a self-referential hall of mirrors.
Interestingly enough, one of the antidotes lies somehow also within the process of internal reflection. The desert monks were sharp and clear on the trap of self-absorption, “nail[ing] narcissistic self-definition, correctly, as vainglory.”
They were not at all concerned “that people should behave correctly according to the rules, but rather that people should be able to see their situation clearly for what it is, and so become free from the distorting perspective which underlies all our sins.” –quoting Dominican Simon Tugwell, p135
Well heck. That looks a lot like my doing-first approach is inside out. It may avoid spinning wheels on narcissistic self-definition, but not-reflecting means not seeing, either.
Intuitively, though, I think doing-first remains a good method. It’s in what I do next that determines how that two-edged sword cuts. Norris later notes that, “In the monastic frame for reference, being suspicious of our motives need not mean indulging in self-loathing or unnecessary guilt,” that is, dropping back into narcissistic self-definition down the negative side (138).
As we were working through one of my major episodes of depression and anxiety, my therapist Thea once told me, “You’re not psychotic. I’ve seen psychotic. You’re only mildly neurotic. Don’t give yourself airs.”
My struggle with — my suspicion of — my desires, though annoying in its consistency, appears to keep me on God’s right path. As long as I don’t start thinking I’m more <whatever> than I am–positively or negatively–I avoid the narcissistic self-definitions that might give myself “airs.”
Mind you, this isn’t consoling me in my struggle to understand my tidal pull to write as a working out of God’s will for me. It doesn’t remove my suspicion of my motives on Artist Days, particularly when I spend one shopping. (Gallery-hopping and to-do list generation manage to squeak under the self-critical wire.) Vocation is tricky ground, thin-crusted and full of thermal features. All I know to do is to live day to day, or next-thing to next-thing, holding each element thoughtfully to the Light.