Before there were Seven Deadly Sins, there were Eight. The one that got eliminated, acedia, has made a return to life via the pandemic. Or at least to mine.
The eighth Deadly Sin was indeed acedia, which means “a lack of care.” It was laziness and more. Acedia, according to the Atlas Obscura website, was a kind of boredom. It makes it difficult to practice the presence of God. Mindful magazine’s Spring 2021 issue notes: “It has resurged, thanks to a certain pandemic, as (acedia) describes a thoroughly modern condition: listlessness, ambient anxiety and an inability to concentrate.”
The Desert Fathers, particularly Evagrius of Pontius, thought acedia was the vice that could most tempt monks and hermits to leave the faith. (His other deadly sins were gluttony, fornication, avarice, sadness, anger, vainglory and pride.) He called it “the demon of noontide” and felt very strongly about monks taking naps as the gateway to sin galore. (!!!)
Pandemic naps or not, Christian mindfulness is a way out of this listlessness. If your practice is feeling a little anxious or you are having difficulty concentrating, the magazine suggests you start by bringing mindfulness to a daily activity or a daily routine. This becomes Christian mindfulness when you pray before and after the activity and practice the presence of God during it. Give it a try.
It’s 2 a.m. Do you know where your mindfulness practice is? Yes, waking up in the middle of the night is unpleasant. But it can be an opportunity to grow as a Christian who practices mindfulness.
Mindful, an excellent magazine, published an article in its Spring 2021 issue titled “Beginner’s Mind” by Michelle Maldonado. In answering a question about preparing for sleep, Michelle also gave wonderful advice about what to do when you wake up in the night.
She suggested activating your parasympathetic nervous system with an easy breathing practice:
- Inhale to the count of four.
- Exhale slowly to the count of eight.
This practice activates the vagus nerve that is the major nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body.
You also could add more elements to this: doing a gratitude list or saying the Jesus prayer. Either bring the presence of God into your night.
Michelle and many others also suggest that, if you can’t go back to sleep, get up and read. Many of my friends read the Psalms to calm in the middle of the night. I tend to meditate over scripture or elements in the Thirty Days With a Great Spiritual Teacher series.
In any case, you won’t be in bed feeling frustrated. Perhaps, as one of my friends used to say, God has woken you up to spend time with you. It’s good to be ready to listen.
Many of us are watching our words these days. These four guidelines for right speech from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in “The Art of Communicating” are good for people of all faiths to consider.
- Tell the truth. Don’t lie or turn the truth upside down.
- Don’t exaggerate.
- Be consistent. This means no double-talk: speaking about something in one way to one person and in an opposite way to another for selfish or manipulative reasons.
- Use peaceful language. Don’t use insulting or violent words, cruel speech, verbal abuse or condemnation.
Difficult, even toxic, people are a fact of life. We can … and sometimes must … avoid the most abusive. But we may still find that we have to deal with difficult coworkers, bosses, family members or neighbors.
Reviewing an old journal, I found my younger self listing the self-destructive ways that I was dealing with difficult people. I was:
- Draining my own energy by being upset.
- Thinking about how people were not behaving as they “should” be.
- Trying to appease people in ways contrary to God’s will.
- Saying half-truths and lies to keep the people off my back.
- Rehearsing and re-rehearsing upcoming conversations.
- Later, thinking about what nasty things I could have said to them.
- Spending time and energy trying to stabilize myself after I was shaken by an encounter.
Christian mindfulness does call on us to handle toxic people differently. We need to look at ourselves in prayer to see if we are the cause of any of the unpleasantness. After we have dealt with anything that’s our fault, we can alter our behavior to make dealings with the person easier. Here are five ways that I have changed my approach.
- Accept that this is a difficult relationship with a person who has emotional problems. Accepting this frees us from hoping the person will behave in a different way next time.
- Tell the truth. Instead of trying to appease by lying, tell the person the truth. That doesn’t mean attacking them. It means using “I statements” about how they make you feel. “I don’t want to go to lunch with you because I tend to get nervous and anxious around you.”
- Do not respond to them … in words, writing or online comments … until you are calm and centered.
- Pray for them every day. Jesus asked us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
- Ask for the gift of mercy for yourself. Eventually you may be able to see this person as Jesus does. That will give you compassion.
During this pandemic, Amazon and other online retailers have become my close friends. And I’m not alone.
J.P. Morgan Chase reported in October 2020 that e-commerce sales were up 60% during the first half of 2020. Salesforce found that global digital orders peaked at 71% year-over-year on Dec. 5-6, 2020. The panicked buying of cleaning supplies, toilet paper and baby formula has calmed down. But we are still at the keyboard shopping.
So how can we bring Christian mindfulness to our urge to buy stuff? Isolation is making it tougher. I know I get really excited to see the Amazon Prime truck and the mailperson.
But I also know that more people are struggling these days. My money is God’s money. If I spend it on items that cheer me up for 30 minutes, I won’t have it to contribute to help others. These six tips can help:
- Ask the right questions. Is this necessary? Do I have to buy it from Amazon, or can I get it delivered from the local shop that is struggling? How can this purchase do the most good?
- Make a list. Put the things you need on a list. If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it.
- One in, one out. When you bring one item in, remove another worn item. This works for just about every type of purchase.
- Consider the packaging. I’ve had a few items arrive crushed and broken, so I know that packaging is necessary. Recycle what you can, and urge sellers to use only what packaging is necessary.
- Pray before you click. Are you doing this just because you’re bored, lonely or needy? Turn to the Lord to see.
- Find other ways to lift your spirits. When you are down, try worship music. Many are missing the opportunity to gather together and sing. Or go for a walk in nature. Do what you need to do to lift your spirits with spending a lot of money.
The pandemic will not last forever. Let’s try to get through it without building up clutter and depleting our accounts.
The most beloved book in Christian mindfulness isn’t a composed book at all. “The Practice of the Presence of God” is a collection of letters and thoughts from a cook in a Paris monastery in 17th century named Brother Lawrence.
He began life as Nicolas Herman around 1614 in the Lorraine duchy of France. As a soldier in the 30 Years War, he received a nearly fatal injury that left him maimed and in chronic pain for the rest of his life. In midlife, Nicolas joined a new monastery in Paris. He took the name Brother Lawrence after his parish priest and was the cook for 100 monastery members. Later he worked in the sandal repair shop. In all he spent 40 years in monastery.
At some point, Brother Lawrence began Christian mindfulness, living the present moment in the presence of God. He walked through his days constantly conversing with God and aware of His presence.
After Brother Lawrence’s death in 1691, Joseph de Beaufort, representing the local archbishop, published Lawrence’s letters and spiritual maxims. In 1694, de Beaufort expanded the manuscript to add conversations that he had had with Brother Lawrence, titling the new volume “The Practice of the Presence of God.”
More than 400 years later, this book is a treasured Christian classic. Brother Lawrence inspires us to “establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence by continually conversing with Him. It was a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries. We should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God, which would yield us great joy in being devoted to Him.”
You can download a free copy of “The Practice of the Presence of God” from Project Gutenberg here.
Other resources for Christian mindfulness are found here.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”Martin Luther King Jr.
Today is both Martin Luther King Day and the first day of a traditional time to pray for Christian unity. This is a perfect match for 2021.
The American Christian church is in sad shape as it deals with the issues swirling within it. Christian nationalism and systemic racism are the two most important.
So let’s meditate on this prayer:
we pray to you for your church.
Fill it with your truth.
Keep it in your peace.
Where it is corrupt, reform it.
Where it is in error, correct it.
Where it is right, defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, reunite it.
We pray, oh God, for the oppression and violence that are our sad inheritance as Americans.
We give you thanks for the work of Christian preachers and witnesses, particularly for Martin Luther King Jr., to alleviate these burdens.
Fill us with your spirit, where our community is divided by racism, torn by repression, saddened by fear and ignorance.
May we give ourselves to your work of healing.
May we forgive each other and walk together in your light.
A prayer by the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud (1573-1645) and a traditional prayer for Martin Luther King Day were adapted to become the prayer above.