Anger, Love, Expanding – and not Shrinking – the Mind

Activism is born of love and caring—and also of moral outrage and anger.  Think of the thousands who marched in Selma or filled the jails voluntarily (teen agers among them) in Birmingham and elsewhere to challenge segregation, Jim Crow laws, and the rest. 

Racial justice demonstrators. Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash.

Anger is often born of moral outrage or of grief.  In either case, if steered correctly, it can be tapped into as valuable energy.   If steered incorrectly, it leads to violence and more chaos and havoc and war.

This is why Thomas Aquinas can say that “nothing great happens without anger,” that anger is a fuel for taking on worthwhile tasks and persevering in them. 

Beauty is another path to taking on great tasks, he also points out.  “Zeal comes from an intense experience of the beauty of things.” 

We are living in a time when there is much that is ugly—war and all its barbarity, a crazy and dangerous gulf, growing daily , between the billionaires of the world and 95% of the human population, the destruction of the planet, media moguls and politicians  who choose to spread lies and can do so by way of almost instant communications and so much more.

But we are also living in a time when beauty is also more swiftly communicated including the courage and generosity of those resisting war in Ukraine and/or offering hospitality and assistance to the millions of refugees and so much more.

A Serbian refugee family runs after crossing a border line. Posted to Flickr by Freedom House. Public Domain.

Can the outrage at war and the transmitting of war live into our living rooms daily translate into a deeper awareness of the folly of war altogether?  Might the day come soon when we can steer the vast resources—intellectual and financial and creative–we use for war toward something we can all benefit from such as standing up successfully to defend mother Earth?  All the research we put into war, can it be steered instead toward saving Mother Earth as we know her? 

The capital sin of “acedia” I usually understand as Aquinas defined it, “the lack of energy to begin new things.”  Depression, nihilism, self-pity, denial, despair, all these attitudes can birth acedia.  But another way to name acedia, also offered by Aquinas, is this: A “shrinking of the mind.”

When our minds shrink, when our world gets too small, we can easily fall into acedia which includes not caring and not having the energy to act. 

This is one more reason why a re-marriage of cosmos and psyche can be so valuable for putting love into action. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 21, 131-137.   

And Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 189-201, 231-236.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Black Lives Matter demonstrator creating a heart with hands during a demonstration in London. Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

What does it mean to you, how does it strike you, that the “capital sin” of acedia is defined not as just “sloth,” but as the “lack of energy to begin new things” and by a “shrinking of the mind”?  What follows from that?

Recommended Reading

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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9 thoughts on “Anger, Love, Expanding – and not Shrinking – the Mind”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you ask us in our Queries for Contemplation: “What does it mean to you, how does it strike you, that the ‘capital sin’ of acedia is defined not as just ‘sloth,’ but as the ‘lack of energy to begin new things’ and by a ‘shrinking of the mind’?” To me, I like both of Aquinas’ newer definitions of acedia but I think they both have different meanings. For example: having a lack of energy to begin new things–doesn’t seem like a capital sin to me, let alone a venial sin, especially if its cause is chronic depression or anxiety–things in New Testament times would have been even diagnosed as demon possession, but we know today them is as forms of mental illness. The true application of what is said here, would be to those who are just plain “lazy.”
    “What follows from that?” People who have mental illnesses should not be made out to be sinners because of their illnesses. And lazy people need to be motivated by external motivations, because they are not being motivated on their own…

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    Since his stroke two years ago my husband – who is new to Matthew and to right-brained ways of thinking- has become a devoted fan and found this morning’s DM particularly exciting.
    This is as close as possible to what he said:
    “The really amazing thing with Matthew is that it’s a new discovery every morning.. Not like a university lecture that goes on and on and on and gets boring. Instead it’s breaking into something different every day. I was talking in an AA meeting two days ago about how my dependency on booze kept me functioning in every day life but how I had no energy left over to go on to do bigger things or go off in new directions and then this morning Matt quoted Aquinas writing about exactly that. So something that felt uniquely personal, Aquinas was writing about 800 years ago.”

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jo Anne, Well, all the best to your husband and you. Thank you for your support of what we are doing–and your evidence of what Matthew’s message can do!

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    Jeanette Metler

    I appreciate Mathew expanding our perception about anger, in today’s DM. In the Indigenious teachings, there is a similar teaching about anger. The energy of anger within these teachings can be choreographed and designed in its movement, to speak the unspoken truth to power and the misuse, abuse and injustices that have sparked this anger. Anger therefore becomes a teacher of truth, communicating this in a nonviolent manner. This takes not only focus, balance and control of this very powerful emotion, this energy in motion… but it also takes a courageous heart of love, compassion and mercy… a willingness to lay alot on the line. I know this from personal experience.

    It’s difficult after extended periods of time, doing this… which can lead to a kind of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual fatigue… the weariness of the soul, fighting the good fight. It’s important to retreat and take refuge in the essence and presence of the Spirit in order to find rest and rejuvenate oneself. Sometimes, and this is the very hard part… you need to discern when it’s time to let go and move on… accepting the painful loss of the possibility of bringing about necessary changes. I know this too from experience.

    Mathew once spoke in past DM’s that there is no guarantee of success… when one ventures into the landscape of all of this. I sense all of what I have experienced as apart of what it means to be fools for Christ… that sacred journey of the Cosmic Christ, unfolding, evolving and emerging … again and again, ever so slowly within our hearts, minds and souls. I also recognize the importance of the sacred ceremonies and rituals of Easter… the resurrection… that rekindles, keeping this spark, this light of Love, Compassion and Mercy alive within us.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Thank you for your comment. I hear what you are saying when you write: “Anger therefore becomes a teacher of truth, communicating this in a nonviolent manner.” My father was a fighter (not professional) but a typica construction worker, “don’t-mess-with-him” kind of guy. I have had a hard time in my life in dealing with anger, however I do know now, and it took my grandson to teach me. I have learned when I meet anger with care and understanding it melts the anger away. And this, as you say, “This takes not only focus, balance and control of this very powerful emotion, this energy in motion… but it also takes a courageous heart of love, compassion and mercy… a willingness to lay a lot on the line. I know this from personal experience.” Thank you again Jeanette !!!

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    What to do with anger?

    “Anger is often born of moral outrage or of grief.  In either case, if steered correctly, it can be tapped into as valuable energy. If steered incorrectly, it leads to violence and more chaos and havoc and war.” —Mathew Fox

    LOVE must transform and guide our anger into positive actions. }:- a.m.

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    Matthew, profound meditation and questions you have presented to us today that challenge
    our spiritual journeys in very deep ways… Sometimes I feel in a human way that I cannot dwell too long on the ongoing suffering and injustices still present in humanity around the world…
    I feel I would be overcome by sadness, grief, hopelessness, depression, and anger if I would dwell on this suffering, death, ignorance, selfishness, greed, evil on ‘man’s’ (and it is mostly men in patriarchal societies/institutions) inhumanity and insensitivities to one another and Mother Nature… But as a prophet, you’re absolutely right that we need to be aware and sensitive to the realities of this suffering, destruction, and injustices continuing daily in our human history and some of the underlying causes (especially in many of your past DMs)… You’re also right that besides our awareness/sensitivities, we should channel our righteous anger to work for social justice and compassionate action each in our way that the Spirit of Love~Wisdom~Truth~Justice~Peace~Compassionate Action is calling us to be and act in our daily lives… Since I’m elderly and retired there is less social action on my part, but I take heart that many of our sisters and brothers around the world are involved in compassionate social action with faith in God’s Spirit Lovingly guiding and strengthening them… As a contemplative, I try to expand my mind, heal my broken heart (from the suffering and cruelty of humanity as we’re all aware of)… with sharing my faith in God’s Loving~Living~Healing~Strengthening~Wisdom~Creative Presence in our inner and outer lives
    with one another, even in our suffering and periods of emptiness/loss/despair (maybe God’s Love~Presence is mysteriously especially with us during those moments)…. I also have faith in the power and healing of sharing/sending our loving/forgiving prayers with one another through the inter-dimensions of our deeper connectivity, ongoing evolutions, and Loving Oneness of our eternal Souls….

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    The churches of my youth insisted that anger was a sin—something likely stressed to young girls in order to create compliant women subject to the instruction of their menfolk. Naturally, I rejected this immediately quoting the incident of Jesus driving people out of the temple, a comment not kindly received. Jesus was privileged to exhibit *righteous* anger—female persons were to be meek and mild-tempered (and cover our hair lest it provoke unrighteous thoughts in observing men).
    I never heard of acedia as a capital sin, but this I do know: The Church insisted on blind obedience to its dicta on pain of Hell, and that insistence produced acedia in many people regardless of gender, but especially in females. It actively “shrunk the minds” of people of intelligence, curiosity, and will—until the church itself required Crusaders and warriors.
    Obviously, a shrinking of the mind, produces fatal hesitancy in action and fear of change.

  7. Avatar

    Anger is a necessary fuel for action, so long as it is joined to love. I agree with Olive that women have been taught by too many churches that anger is a sin. I agree with Matthew that acedia is a grave and deep sin, as it shrinks not only the mind but also the heart and builds walls of denial, so that people simply sit and watch while injustice after injustice after injustice happens. It is a form of moral and spiritual cowardice, in my opinion, and narcissistic at its base. I love the way Matthew describes it in Chapter 8 of “Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh” and writes:”I believe that acedia is the most dominant sin of our culture today…” Acedia seems to be the opposite of “woke”.

    I recommend Fr. Rohr’s summary meditation on Saturday, April 9, for the practice by Barbara Holmes on joining our suffering with others. It is important not to dwell in the anger and the pain but to acknowledge it and do whatever we can to alleviate it.

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