‘Make sure you have a day off’ – we often hear those words. People, and clergy are not alone in this, are often encouraged to ensure they have their rest day.
Talking in a group of clergy recently we questioned the aptness of the advice, especially in these days of the Coronavirus pandemic. The advice can rather glib, too simple and too easily said. There is so often nowadays a much deeper issue, a deeper ‘ailment,’ which cannot simply be addressed by having a day off. Indeed we wondered just how far we can rest and relax in these days when once supportive connections are weakened, movement is restricted, and work is home based.
Many are experiencing feelings which, while partly due to tiredness or exhaustion, also run deeper. There is a feeling of heaviness, lethargy, even collapse. This may be due to depression, and indeed many more cases of mental health illness are being found in current days. With this, or sometimes apart from it, can go a spiritual heaviness, a feeling of discontent, a lack of care, and a lack of energy. It is as if, one spiritual author wrote ‘a high wall blocks out the light of God.’
To describe this feeling spiritual writers have used the word accidie. (Pronounced ak-sidee). The great priest John Keble described his experience of accidie:
I find very often at hand a feeling forbidding me to enjoy the good things… a certain perverse pleasure … in which I turn over a huge heap of blessings to find one or two fancied evils…
Over one hundred years ago the great theologian and bishop Francis Paget published an influential essay, Concerning Accidie. Paget explored how people have understood accidie through the centuries.
In his essay Paget quotes Dante’s Inferno to describe the feeling:
Sullen were we in the sweet air that is gladdened by the sun. We carried lazy smoke in our hearts; now lie we sullen here in a black mire.
Paget commented that while some authors described accidie as a sin, it was also seen as an ailment. If a person deliberately choses the darkness of spirit and chooses negativity then there was something of the sinful about it, however, Paget maintained circumstances could lead the mind and spirit to it and so it had the nature of an ailment – akin to melancholy or depression.
Paget was very surprised at the reception his work gained. Many people wrote to him telling him how they experienced spiritually what he described. To this day his essay is considered to be authoritative on the subject.
Paget went on to suggest four ways which could help the Christian remedy the situation. Our next blog post looks at Paget’s suggestions and how we could use them today.