Faith and Life

Acedia and Intentionality

I was supposed to have been writing something yesterday. It was going to take a little time and a bit of thought, with planning beforehand and editing afterward. It all sounded so simple. What was far more simple, was the procrastination with which I approached the task at hand. Suddenly, a variety of other things filled my mind and vied for my attention and time. Some of them succeeded. In the end, my writing was done and sent onward to it’s final destination.

Looking at my spiritual life, I see some similarities.

Casting my eye toward the bookcase here in the study, I see a growing pile of some of the spiritual books I have bought over the past year or so. The thing is, many of them remain unread. You see, I have to be ‘in the mood’ to read any particular book. Sometimes they will just sit there, silently glowering at me but I just have no interest in them. And then at some unforeseen and inexplicable moment, my attention will be engaged by one, and it gets read. It has to be the right moment.

Similarly, I look back at some of my good intentions. The one which reproaches me most of all is the insufficient time I devote to quietly praying the Scriptures. Now, that isn’t to say I don’t pray them – I do, every day. But not as much as I might like or perhaps not as much as I feel I should. I would so like to spend more time immersing myself in them. The intention remains, but the action does not always follow. A bit like my writing. We find ourselves succumbing to acedia – that state of restlessness or torpor where little of value gets done.

It seems to me that from time to time, our spiritual side can suffer from this acedia. We have a good or noble idea, decide to act upon it and then.. well, you can guess the rest.

Perhaps our spiritual lives need a healthy dose of intentionality. Mine certainly does. I find this sense of intentionality generally works reasonably well for me. I seem to work best when I determine clearly to do a thing and to do it to the best of my ability. Just one thing at a time. And I need to do it with sufficient regularity that it becomes ingrained, a habit of sorts. ‘Habit’ does not mean it is done without thinking – in fact, quite the opposite. The habit part comes in the act of doing, rather than describing the quality of what is done. This is the reason why I always indicate at roundabouts even in the absence of another car – doing a thing all the time ensures (for me, at least) that I will always do it.

Prayer is a bit like this, too. I set regular times of the day when I will actively and deliberately pray. These, too, are now well and truly ingrained so there is no chance I will forget or overlook them. For me, this intentionality works. The prayer itself is not habit – but the taking time out to devote to that prayer certainly is habit.

Now, if I could just develop the habit of reading a book a week..

A Catholic writer living in the United Kingdom

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