In a previous DM, I cited Gus Speth, the environmental lawyer who came to realize that the crisis of climate change is not so much seas warming and rising, and ice melting, and wildfires and hurricanes raging, and species dying—it was more about people being apathetic.
Gus Speth came to realize that the cause behind so much suffering of Mother Earth and her children, humans included, is humanity’s stuckness in apathy. The traditional word for apathy is acedia, the capital sin which we have mistranslated as “sloth” but which names much more than that. It is about not caring and being selfish and choosing to remain asleep and about “lack of energy to begin new things” (Aquinas) and about couchpotatoitis (couch-potato-itis).
One might say that the opposite of acedia is: Love. Passion. A passion that can lead to compassion. Getting out of our couches and away from our addictions of any kind that interfere with our deepest feelings of joy and wonder, reverence and gratitude, which give us the energy to carry on. Acedia is the opposite of the Via Positiva.
With this in mind, and so much of the news being hard and weighing heavily on us daily, it is useful to focus more on acedia and its cures. For this reason, we will do this in some upcoming DM’s.
Acedia feeds on despair, and despair feeds on acedia. Thomas Aquinas says that despair “tears charity out by its roots,” and that when we are stuck in despair, all kinds of wickedness arises because nothing seems valuable to us anymore. I wonder if a lot of the negative energy being spread on the news and social media today is born of despair.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Misdirected Love in the First Chakra: Acedia,” in Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 190ff.
Banner Image: This pencil-and-paper study by Dante Gabriel Rossetti preceded his oil-and-canvas masterpiece, “Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice” (circa 1871). Inspired by Dante Alighieri’s poem “La Vita Nuova” (circa 1294), Rossetti painted an angel in crimson raiment clasping Dante’s hand, leading Dante to the deathbed of his unrequited love, Beatrice Portinari. Via Wikimedia Commons.
For the transcript of Matthew’s video teaching, click HERE.
Queries for Contemplation
Do you think it’s possible that a lot of the crazy hate-driven politics and media of our time is grounded in despair? If so, what might the cures be to move us to a better place?
“Wisdom, Grace, Love” – a 3-part online lecture series by Caroline Myss, Andrew Harvey, and Matthew Fox, September 8, 15, and 22, 3:00-4:30 pm Pacific (GMT/UTC-7). Learn more HERE.