Showing posts from December, 2020

Holy leisure vs. unholy sloth

"Idleness is the enemy of the soul." Thus begins Chapter 48 of the Rule of St. Benedict, in which he lays out a schedule balancing manual and intellectual labor. Yes, we think with a private groan, we should  keep busy. We should be productive ! But wait -- that same schedule, that same paragraph in the Rule, also has time for a daily nap! St. Benedict's monastery was in Italy, after all. And then, there's my favorite commandment, the one about resting on the Sabbath. Idleness is the enemy of the soul, but rest  is holy, and it is mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy. America is a workaholic country. At every economic level, we suck at rest and relaxation. But before you tell me that you don't have time to rest, or before you accuse me of blind privilege, be honest: how much time do you spend watching TV/YouTube/Netflix (etc.)? How much time do you spend playing solitaire or Candy Crush (etc.)? It's a paradox: most Americans spend hours every day goof

Practical Asceticism: Get Bored

One of the quickest triggers for compulsive behavior, in my experience, is boredom . Learning to do absolutely nothing, even for a few seconds, is one of the hardest and yet most important lessons for me in the hermitage. It is also a very, very common challenge in our modern times, when we've all got a perfect little rectangle of constant distraction in the form of a smartphone.  I'm 53 years old; I grew to adulthood without a PC, let alone a smartphone. We used to use phone books, big, thick, paper phone books. We used to buy maps at the gas station to figure out how to get where we wanted to go. If we got lost, we'd have to pull off the road to look at the map again, and if a road was closed for construction or the map was out of date, we'd have to find a pay phone to call for directions. If we had car trouble, we'd have to get out and hike to the next rest stop on foot to call AAA from a pay phone. We had a complete set of Encyclopedia Brittanica at home, a 3&qu

Practical Asceticism: Lose the Whip

Following up on this post , I want to start off with this first, fundamental precept: stop beating yourself up.  Self-flagellation is really no fun! But more important: it does not work . Think about it: when you screw up, which you inevitably do because you are human, does self-recrimination actually keep you from screwing up the next time? Not only doesn't it help, by breaking down your self-confidence it actually makes it harder  to change.  You may ask, isn't beating yourself up a venerable old monastic tradition? Well, no, actually, it's not. It might be a medieval monastic tradition, but if you go farther back, to St. Benedict and back before him to the old Egyptian desert monasteries, it really is not the way. St. Benedict says that during Lent, each monk may freely offer some extra penitential sacrifice, of his own free will -- but only with the approval of the Abbot, because "anything done without the permission of the spiritual father will be imputed to presu

The power of weakness

I hate being weak. I hate being vulnerable, insecure, getting sick, needing help. I hate getting angry, scared, moody, not having all the information, and not being in control of outcomes. No, I don't like being weak. Who does? So the really stunning thing about the Christian God is not the power and glory, but the human weakness, frailty, littleness. The Incarnation of the most high God came in the form of an absolutely dependent, powerless being: an embryo, son of a girl who was barely old enough to get pregnant, in a time when infant mortality was exponentially higher than we can get our heads around in this era of high-tech obstetrics. She wasn't married yet, and her fiancĂ© very nearly ditched her when he found out she had gotten pregnant, not by him, before the wedding. The damn Romans forced them to travel to Bethlehem --by donkey if she was lucky, or maybe on foot-- when she was 9 months pregnant; she gave birth to the baby in a stable; and then they immediately had to g

Practical Asceticism in the Modern World: Intro

According to  Merriam-Webster , asceticism is " the practice of strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline : the condition, practice, or mode of life of an ascetic : rigorous abstention from self-indulgence ."  That doesn't sound like much fun, does it? It seems crazy, in a modern culture that celebrates the opposite: strict self-indulgence, and a rigorous abstention from self-denial.  And so what's wrong with self-indulgence, and what's so great about self-denial? Well, there's nothing mysterious about that. Overindulgence in food and drink leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, addictions, etc. ad nauseum . Inappropriate sexual self-indulgence, lust without love and commitment, is another way to contract nasty diseases, but it's an even better way to wreck relationships, break hearts, and erode self-esteem. Covetousness, as in impulse shopping or "keeping up with the Joneses," can get us into serious fi