instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, July 26, 2004

More in sorrow

Steven Riddle writes about the sliding scale of sloth:
I think early in the Christian journey all legitimate and licit pleasures are good and should be gratefully accepted. However, as we grow in the faith, it seem to me that the things we take pleasure in should also advance. That is, that while we might enjoy light reading at the start of our Christian career, as our lives move into conformity with God, we might move on from this legitimate interest to more profound things....

So it leads me to wonder if our indulgence in these pass-times isn't sometimes also a way of avoiding deeper commitment.
Sloth, as you know, is sorrow for spiritual good. In an article in the April 2004 The Thomist, Rebecca Konyndyk-DeYoung suggests a cause of this odd yet common vice is the recognition that joyful acceptance of spiritual good demands conversion.

We cannot experience the goodness of God and remain unchanged. If we don't want to change, then, we have to somehow avoid experiencing God's goodness, which means we have to avoid doing things that bring us in contact with God. Things like praying; things like reading better books than we used to read.

I mention a "sliding scale of sloth" because what will bring us into contact with God depends on where we are. Reading P. G. Wodehouse may be an escape, but for most of us it isn't an escape from God. It's only when we are close to God that to read Wodehouse is to turn from God. (I speak, of course, of all right-thinking persons. For those objectively disordered souls who do not appreciate Wodehouse, we pray in silence.)

But as with all such freedoms, we can't let it become a license. When a good keeps us from God, we cannot choose it, and we must watch out for those goods that at one time did not keep us from God -- perhaps they even drew us toward Him -- but are now holding us back.

I think I once used the analogy of a hot air balloon, tethered to the ground by ropes of varying lengths. At any given time, only certain ropes prevent the balloon from rising, and it is only when these are untied that other, longer ropes begin to hold the balloon down.

None of us is good enough. Each of us is being held back from God by something, and we need to search our lives to find out what it is. The search does not end in this life, and what was once a licit and even beneficial pleasure may well be what we are clinging to, out of sloth, out of implicit sorrow at the thought that becoming what we are meant to be means letting go of some temporary pleasure.