Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cassian: On Dejection and Listlessness

This photo of Andrew the Heron is the closest I could come to an image depicting dejection and listlessness. I'm sure Andrew is not existing in those vices. He is probably just taking a rest from fishing. However, he is alone here, and the temptation in dejection is to remove oneself from others. Listlessness is partner to the vice of dejection, and rock-perching may qualify as listlessness if we but knew Andrew's inner disposition in this photo moment.

Dip into the past. Ten days ago I prayed deeply, begging God to use me and telling Him that by the time I finished the daily editing of sorrowful consumer complaints for my part-time work, I had little creative energy or time for spiritual reading, praying, and writing. However, I was needful of the income.

One week ago, while beginning the Monday morning editing, I received an email from the boss. He had sold the company. The email was nebulous, but what was obvious stunned: stop editing and submit hours worked thus far, this month. Upon further inquiry, yes, my services were not going to be needed, nor my adult daughter's in another state. We are finished. They planned to automate more, the complaint moderating process. 

Not only did this stun me, I had to re-arrange my financial reality. The adviser said not to sell the house; market dropped and sales next to nil. With disability significantly slashed last November and medical expenses increased, I am on financial lock down. No more spending, and nothing to cut out except donations. First time since age 8 have not tithed, and as a Catholic and with the part-time job, was having fun being generous. Cut, snip, snapped.

But what has affected the most is the major shift in daily routine, plus the sheer shock of an unexpected. God had answered quickly and definitively. Yes, Christ was in this present moment life-change. Was humbling, horrible, and heinous. Heinous because the boss as consultant to the new owner, lied to us regarding the work stoppage. We are waiting to see if we even get the final, partial salary. They knew my status as well as how this job had become a mission of prayer and purpose in my otherwise rather solitary and painful life.

So, after making necessary cuts which included no more plants for the gardens and no more help tending the gardens, as well as dousing monetary donations, the reality settled increasingly in present moment after present moment. For three days, other than Mass, I could focus on nought. Each night I'd tell myself and Jesus that tomorrow I would do something, like clean, or work in the gardens, or read, or all of these and more. But the three days in the belly of the whale found me not regurgitated on land, and dejection and listlessness took up residence. At the same time, other present moments of creepiness from situations all about, beat me like a dirge drum cadence.

I prayed. What came in answers was that I am the donation now: my self, severe chronic pain, prayer, writing, and these gardens. Even if other people are too busy to enjoy the gardens, I hope the Crucified Christ's and His Sorrowful Mother's eternities are brightened by the gardens developed to their honor and glory.

As for seeking some other consumer type editing work, the answer seemed clear: devote what moments and years left of my life all the more to developing the spiritual, writing the spiritual, and giving my soul all the more to God. Do and be nothing else. Suffer, pray, read, write, tend the gardens for they are God's. 

Yet still, I could not focus or enact despite the answers...not until yesterday when I was able to pick up The Philokalia compiled by St. Nicodemis of the Holy Mountain. (It is the last book I can purchase and which I'd started reading a couple days before the job loss). Pulling the bookmark, I found a present moment surprise. I'd left off at the section on the demons of Dejection and Listlessness! Yes, Christ is IN the present moments!

 Four pages of text told me all I needed to know about the vices of dejection and listlessness, and how to remedy these soul-poachers.  

"...the demon of dejection, who obscures the soul's capacity for spiritual contemplation and keeps it from all good works. When this malicious demon seizes our soul and darkens it completely, he prevents us from praying gladly, from reading Holy Scripture with profit and perseverance, and from being gentle and compassionate towards our brethren. He instills a hatred of every kind of work and even of the [whatever spiritual vocation] itself. Undermining the soul's salutary resolutions, weakening its persistence and constancy, he leaves it senseless and paralyzed, tied and bound by its despairing thoughts...."

Without sharing many of the gory details of just how dejected I had become, the description hit each one and more. I had dropped low down, down, down. Reading further, am sure Christ was reading with me, illuminating my understanding and being the Physician of all that ailed, for the dejection and listlessness extended to other organs of my life, not just the job loss. But seized was my soul!

"[Demon of dejection] persuades him to shun every helpful encounter and stops him accepting advice from his true friends or giving them a courteous and peaceful reply....Then it suggests to the soul that we should go away from other people, since they are the cause of its agitation. It does not allow the soul to understand that its sickness does not come from without, but lies hidden within, only manifesting itself when temptations attack the soul because of our ascetic efforts."

Had I not just emailed my spiritual director, telling him of my failure as a Catholic (for the examples include various rejections in a few days of other areas of my life) and that I felt I was called to be a full recluse? That I was beaten about from all sides, oh, woe is me, and all is lost? That even my austere, sliced thin existence was hopeless? A failure through and through....

"...the Doctor of men's souls, who alone has accurate knowledge of the soul's wounds, does not tell us to forsake the company of men; He tells us to root out the causes of evil within us and to recognize that the soul's health is achieved not by separating himself from his fellows, but by his living the ascetic life in the company of holy men. When we abandon...we do not eradicate the motives for dejection but merely exchange them, since the sickness which lies hidden within us will show itself again in other circumstances. Thus it is clear our whole fight is against the passions within....

"...we must struggle with the demon of dejection who casts the soul into despair....we must drive it from our heart...The only form of dejection we should cultivate is the sorrow which goes with repentance for sin and is accompanied by hope in God....This 'godly sorrow' nourishes the soul through the hope engendered by repentance, and it is mingled with joy. That is why it makes us obedient and eager for every good work: accessible, humble, gentle, forbearing and patient in enduring all the suffering or tribulation God may send us. Possession of these qualities shows that a man enjoys the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, faith, self-control. 

"But from the other [bad] kind of dejection we come to know the fruits of the evil spirit: listlessness, impatience, anger, hatred, contentiousness, despair, sluggishness in praying....We should shun this second form of dejection as we would unchastity, avarice, anger and the rest of the passions. It can be healed by prayer, hope in God, meditation on Holy Scripture, and by living with godly people."

So, I had to make some decisions of discernment, of the good kind of judging some situations that had posted in my soul the Open House sign for the demon of dejection. I considered St. John Cassian's advice about being around holy people. I had to remove myself from a situation of a person prone to crass, descriptive conversation, sadly who sits nearby, when I'm at Mass. Going to a different Sunday Mass. Then I had to pray about phone conversation with another, and realize my responsibility in keeping it spiritual, asking for prayer concerns and cutting off non-malicious gossip, but gossip of aspects going on in the temporal Catholic world that only serve to upset me. Well, perhaps at some point I'll be able to live among these "wild beasts" of talk, and talk is all it is, but for now, no. And I must admit my own weaknesses and need to set myself firmly before answering the phone, or in any present moment, actually.

As for not wanting to read or pray, I must make an act of the will, and know that to do this, I need to ask God's help. In the brief moment I prayed, then picked up where I'd left off a week ago in The Philokali, the demons of dejection and listlessness were immediately identified and soon shaken from their perches.

Now, as for listlessness which, Cassian writes, works hand in hand with the demon of dejection: "This is a harsh, terrible demon, always attacking the [person], falling upon him at mid-day, making him slack and full of fear, inspiring him with hatred for his [surroundings], his fellow [persons], for work of any kind,and even for the reading of Holy Scripture. He suggest to the [person] that he should go elsewhere and that, if he does not, all his effort and time will be wasted. In addition to all this, he produces in him...a hunger such as he would not normally have....

"Then he makes him think that he will not be able to rid himself of this grievous sickness, except by sallying forth frequently to visit his brethren, ostensibly to help them and to tend them if they are unwell. When he cannot lead him astray in this manner, he puts him into the deepest sleep. In short, his attacks become stronger and more violent, and he cannot be beaten off except through prayer, through avoiding useless speech, through the study of the Holy Scriptures and through patience in the face of temptation....The mind of someone affected by listlessness is filled with nothing but vain distraction. Finally he is ensnared in worldly things and gradually becomes so grievously caught up in them that he abandons the [spiritual] life altogether."

Had I not fallen into taking afternoon naps, waiting for dusk to sleep again, staring out the windows, writing worthless emails to people busy in their focused lives? Had I not answered the phone and jabbered mindlessly about not much of anything worthwhile from the perilous perch of my self-absorbed flitting and flopping?

 "[St. Paul] says, 'Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to withdraw yourselves from every brother who lives in an unruly manner and not according to the tradition which you have received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us: for we ourselves did not behave in an unruly manner when among you, nor did we eat any man's bread as a free gift; but we toiled strenuously night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you: not because we do not have the right, but so as to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you instructions that if anyone refuses to work he should have nothing to eat....Now we instruct such people and exhort them by our Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own bread' (2 Thess. 3:6-12).

St. John Cassian continues: "...the unruly man is lacking in reverence, impulsive in speech, quick to abuse, and so unfit for stillness. He is a slave to listlessness. Paul therefore tells us to avoid such a person, that is, to isolate ourselves from him as from a plague. With the words 'and not according to the tradition you have received from us' he makes it clear that they are arrogant and that they destroy the apostolic traditions....

"The holy fathers of Egypt, who were brought up on the basis of these apostolic commandments, do not allow monks to be without work at any time, especially while they are young. They know that by persevering in work [persons] dispel listlessness, provide for their own sustenance and help those who are in need. They not only work for their own requirements, but from their labor they also minister to their guests, to the poor and to those in prison, believing that such charity is a holy sacrifice acceptable to God. The fathers also say that as a rule someone who works is attacked and afflicted by but one single demon, while someone who does not work is taken prisoner by a thousand evil spirits."

Today, in unfolding present moments, the demons of dejection and listlessness partnered to assault me again and again. I won't mention the details, but thanks be to God--I dressed and went to early Mass despite pain awakening me at 3 a.m. Yet at Mass a situation stirred the inner to a steaming simmer, and after, when stopped at Panera to use a coupon for a free pastry, more dejection threatened by the reality of an isolating encounter. Then home to listlessly send a couple e-mails and stare out the window. What next?

 But Christ in the present moment, the Blessed Mother and my good guardian angel--and who knows what various saints helped rouse me to making a list of what work can be done around here, especially if my spiritual director tells me to not post these writings. Next, took up The Philokalia and more of Cassian, this time on the needful grace of discernment. Then to prepare for two guests soon to arrive here, and changing the emails into spiritual uplifts for those awaiting correspondence, and then settling down to write this blog entry that may be more effective cut into two....

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