Demon of the Noon Day Sun

Demon of the Noon Day Sun October 28, 2021

I am tired. I know you are too. We are plagued by the same demon. Acedia comes from the word describing the sleepy feeling people get in the afternoon usually after lunchtime in the West. I recall in high school that feeling keeping me from paying attention in Algebra 1. I couldn’t help it. Being alert was not possible for me. Evagrius Ponticus reminded me of this as I read again his Praktikos. He describes the demon this way.

First of all he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and the day is fifty hours long. Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour, to look this way and now that to see if perhaps…Then too he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life, a hatred for manual labor. He leads him to think that charity has departed from the brethren, that there is no one to give encouragement. Should there be someone at this period who happens to offend him in some way or other, this too the demon uses to contribute further to his hatred.

A Real Demon?

It is almost time for Halloween so it looks like clickbait to say something about demons. Let’s clarify the point. Evagrius uses the word demon for passions and sins. He believes that there is always a spiritual force at work in the life of a Christian. He draws from the pre-Christian belief in both good and bad spirits called demons. Christians applied the word demonic to the bad spirits. The influences of good spirits were attributed to the holy spirits of God (not necessarily the third person of the Trinity).

Evagrius is a follower of Origen who used the word demon in this way. These are not the extraordinary spirits described as opposing Jesus even though the word is applied to them. Pentecostals or charismatics are confused by this usage. Nadia Bolz-Weber in Shameless describes exorcisms performed on victims who were told they had the demon of lust, greed, or some other. Evagrius does not talk about exorcising these demons. He discusses overcoming them.

The demons are real because the conditions are real. We say a person is “battling their own demons.”  The word describes very real conditions of anxiety, resentment, trauma, and addiction to name a few. Evagrius says that acedia if not checked will lead a person into the influence of other elements of the demonic.

Why Acedia?

Acedia is demonic because it is a temptation to despair. “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) Looking back over the last two decades, it is no wonder the churches failed during the pandemic. They were not strong enough to handle it.

The demons of nationalism, racism, and anxiety were consistently working. The attacks and the War on Terror weakened the churches further. Opposition to the war in Iraq was viewed as opposing God’s chosen President. The racism that came out of the closet when Barack Obama became President tried to disguise itself as religious bigotry. I could never get some people to believe a liberal Christian was not a secret Muslim. The false claims and conspiracy theories gave some people false knowledge and fooled them into thinking they were strong. But they were the elements of spiritual weakness.

Being witness to these conditions weakens one’s own resolve to do good. Good pastors who could not stand it anymore walked away from churches. I tried drowning my subsequent demons in booze. I don’t know how many resignation letters I wrote while inebriated. It is a wonder none were ever sent. The demon of cowardice apparently drinks heavily.

The Demon Persists

Getting sober was the best action I took for myself. I decided to live physically and spiritually. Many friends tell me how proud they are of me. My wife says she admires the fact that I don’t run away from my demons. Well, not anymore. But they did not go away.

Acedia persists. We face weakened churches and continued destructive behavior from bigoted people. Good people who did not buy into the prevailing ideologies walked away from churches. I don’t know if they will ever be back. But some remained to fight the good fight. Church leaders have watched people self-select in their churches. Some chose to leave a church because they were asked to wear masks. Others chose to leave churches where everyone was not asked to wear masks. And there were other reasons too.

It becomes tiresome because serving God in Christ and following the way of Jesus are not considered. People who claim to see demons in every corner adopted very demonic attitudes. It seems, as Evagrius would say, the churches lack charity.

Being Aware

Evagrius advises we be aware of acedia. We can recognize it. We cannot stop it. The feeling of soul-sleepiness continues. If we give in to it, we can fall into the toxic habits of the other demons he describes. We are not monks looking out the window or wondering outside the cell. Our temptation is to be phone-scrolling clock watchers. We should not wish our lives and opportunities to do good away. Sloth is the desire to hide away from doing good in sleep. But resting allows one to be better able to fulfill the opportunity to do good.

What happens when I give up? The demon of resentment takes over. I make excuses for not doing what is right. And I forget that failure is a sin.

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