Dear old and new friends,
Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s holiday greetings of happiness each had an invisible expiration date! Today, two days after the 12th Day of Christmas, they become null and void as we enter into the Hollowdays. These coming weeks are hollow, empty of lively fun parties, receiving gifts, of homes festively decorated with twinkling lights and of strangers exchanging cheery happy wishes with each other.
The paradox of Hollowdays is that they are not empty, and can easily be full of listlessness, gloomy feelings and low grade depression. This sluggishness quickly turns to shock, however, when payment now comes due for the credit card charges from your Christmas shopping! In folk jargon the name of this time between now and Valentine’s Day is, “Down in the dumps days.” Vacant of colorful parades and the gaiety of parties they can leave us in a melancholy state. Even our once rewarding prayer now becomes monotonously dull. Could all this be some mysterious undiagnosed sickness?
Undeniably, January is a time of sickness when we can suffer from colds, the Flu, and Acedia. That last and unfamiliar affliction’s name is from the Greek word for listlessness. Beware of Acedia! It is one of the seven deadly sins; a kissing cousin to sloth. Originally viewed as an affliction of monks, St. Benedict in his Rule gives monastic instructions on how to deal with a monk displaying lethargic signs like lack of attention to his duties, dozing off while praying, boredom and overall dissatisfaction with life. The guilty monk, Benedict says in his Rule, “should be reprimanded a first and second time, and if he does not amend then he must be punished as an example to the other monks.”
January is Acedia Season not just for monks and nuns as the winter weather forces all of us to live in-doors, making us vulnerable to the cabin-fever’s depressive blues. So if you find your daily life is lackluster, your Sunday worship and prayer dull and tiresome, you may be suffering from Acedia! Take heart, this affliction that’s as old as leprosy has a cure. A simple rendition of the medieval scholar and saintly monk Thomas Aquinas’ theory is that since Acedia is a flight from the world and the joys of the spirit, the remedy is to plunge back into both of them! Escape from this gloomy downhearted demon’s grip by being busy doing things for others, being kind and helpful in making others happy and striving daily yourself to truly enjoy being alive.
A brief crisp cure for Acedia: Be busy loving others with a joyful, uplifted heart and you won’t be despondently downhearted.