My latest Seasons of the Soul column at Patheos:
In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself astray in a dark wood
where the straight road had been lost sight of.
–Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy
We have just passed the midpoint of our Lenten journey through the desert. This is a ripe moment to pause and reflect on the commitments we made in earnest almost a month ago as ash was smeared across our skin, reminding us of the preciousness of our days.
The human heart is a funny thing, full of passion for spirit one day and then feeling lost or astray the next. Then we may start to berate ourselves for not being better, more committed, more diligent. In that barrage of inner voices that rise up, we often find ourselves so much further away from our heart's desire than when we began. This very act of self-judgment actually distances us even further from our deep longings for peace and rest.
Or perhaps we encounter what the desert monks called acedia, which is translated in different ways but essentially means slothfulness, and has been called the "noonday demon." Halfway through our journey we find ourselves bored. Our spiritual practice wanes, perhaps because we had high expectations about how we would be transformed by now, and so the realities of daily life dull our commitment.
This is why we call it practice. The monks knew that the only response to acedia was to continue to practice. When we feel full of judgment for ourselves, the only response is to continue to practice. We can construct all kinds of ways to abandon the conscious journey and return to a life on the surface of things. These are the temptations of the heart, written about by mystics for centuries, so why should we be surprised that we confront these same struggles as well?