I’ve been thinking about a word this week, and it’s the word acedia. The English word derives from the Greek word akedia. In Greek “A” means lack or absence, and “kedos” means care. Acedia means to not care.
We’re familiar with the seven deadly sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. This was a list compiled by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century. But before his list of the seven deadly sins, there was a list of eight terrible thoughts or temptations compiled by a fourth century desert monk named Evagrius. This list of eight terrible temptations was revised and edited and became what we know as the seven deadly sins.
One of the eight terrible temptations that was left off the list of seven deadly sins is acedia. It was combined with some other thoughts and ended up on the list as sloth. But Acedia isn’t exactly sloth. Acedia can be associated with a feeling of laziness or sadness or listlessness. It can be connected to those things, but it isn’t the same as those things. Acedia at its core is a loss of hope.
The monks in the desert would refer to acedia as the noonday demon. By the time noon would roll around, the desert monks would have already been to five prayer services. The cool morning would have passed. They would have already spent time at work. And then at noon, at the hottest and most difficult part of their day, monks would be hit with despair. The difficulty of the desert heat, sapping their very life, compounded by the thought of the monotony of the rest of their day and lives, would tempt some monks to quit their life of prayer on the spot. But if they held on and persevered, they’d experience the relief of the evening and the continuing journey of their spiritual life.
Today Jesus tells a parable about our need to pray always and to not lose heart. And I think of acedia, that noonday demon who tempts us to lose hope and despair.
The noonday demon’s purpose is to tempt us to lose heart. And we have plenty of temptations to do so. It’s that feeling of hopelessness or the moments we ask “what’s the point of a life of prayer?” I sometimes feel the temptations of the noonday demon, during the prayers of the people here at church, especially when we pray for the unity of the church and for government leaders.
We pray that God would inspire the Universal Church and grant that everyone who confesses God’s holy name, may agree in the truth of God’s holy Word and live in unity and godly love. And then I have a terrible thought that the Universal Church is fractured beyond repair and will never experience unity.
We pray that God would rule the hearts of governmental leaders so that they might be led to wise decisions and right actions for the welfare and peace of the world. And then there is the terrible thought that there have always been some leaders who make foolish decisions and wrong actions and there always will be.
And beyond these prayers of the people, we have the Lord’s prayer, where we pray for God’s kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We shape our lives by this prayer, asking for God’s kingdom of love and justice and peace, and seeking it in our lives.
“What’s the point?” the noonday demon asks. And the terrible thoughts seem reasonable enough. Why should we keep putting our hearts into our prayers and continue in them?
We experience our own noonday struggle and are tempted to despair. The difficulty of the desert heat of our spiritual lives, sapping our energy and will, compounded by the thought of the monotony of prayer, tempts us to quit our lives of prayer on the spot.
And that’s when Jesus tells us about a widow who perseveres. She is overlooked in a patriarchal society that leaves her vulnerable, because she doesn’t have a man to provide for her. She has no money to be able to influence a right judgment from the judge on her behalf. But she persists. And this unjust judge, who doesn’t fear God or respect people, finally gives in and the woman gets her justice. And this is Jesus’ point: If an unjust judge can give justice to someone who persists in their asking, how much more for God who cares for us and wants justice for his children.
What’s the answer to the noonday demon? It’s hope.
The longer I travel on this spiritual journey with Jesus, the simpler my faith is becoming. Things like faith, hope, and love are becoming more important to me than ever. We are a people of hope. We live in a much bigger story than the present injustice and suffering of our world. Death and sin and loss don’t have the last word. In fact, all those things have been defeated by the love of God.
And when we lose hope, and give into the temptation of the terrible thought of acedia, that things are hopeless or cannot change, or will always be bad, we lose an essential part of what it means to be a human being made in the image of God. We lose our ability to hope and see the possibilities of God’s good future, because we are blinded by the despair of the noonday demon.
Jesus tells us about our need to pray always and not lose heart. He tells us to persevere in prayer and to live in hope. And we can trust him because this is exactly what he has shown us in his own life.
The Book of Common Prayer has the following prayer contained in the Noonday service: Blessed Savior, at this hour you hung upon the cross, stretching out your loving arms: Grant that all the peoples of the earth may look to you and be saved, for your tender mercies’ sake.
Jesus had his own noonday struggle on the cross, on which he stretched out his loving arms. And in the middle of his struggle and despair, and even as the nails were driven into his body, he persevered in prayer and asked God to forgive us because we know not what we do. He was a man of sorrows, but also of deep joy, who hoped in God’s good future for all of us.
Pray always and keep hoping. Don’t give into the temptation of the noonday demon. Persevere through seasons of acedia, no matter how long or short they last. And look to Jesus who meets us in our own despair and hopelessness. Keep pouring your heart out to God in love and trust, and praying for God’s will to be done while you seek God’s kingdom justice.
Persevere. Don’t lose heart. So that when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on the earth, in you and me living in hope, seeking, trusting, and praying.