Last week we started a new series. (what didn’t you know?)
Yes we did.
It’s about using the works for Maurice Sendak as a way to meditate on the works of Jesus.
Sendak has been on my mind for a while. I think of him now because Christa and I are planning a theatre camp using scenes from his books, The Sign on Rosie’s Door, Pierre and the Lion, and Where the Wild Things Are. Each of these books, I believe touch on some spiritual reality that exists in our relationship with Jesus. Rosie’s Door, as Christa wrote last week, was about the spiritual practice of “waiting.” The brief fable of Pierre and the Lion is about the human struggle with acedia... yes, and Where the Wild Things Are is about running, raging and “being loved most all.”
So for the 2nd entry I want to share some thoughts on acedia and Pierre and the Lion: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and A Prologue
You may not be as familiar with Pierre as you are with Max from the Sendak library but I have a hunch that you know his problem. Simply put, Pierre’s issue can be summarized in the one sentence he repeats throughout the book, “I don’t care.”
The early desert fathers and mothers had a word for this condition it was sometimes known as “the noon-day demon” but it’s true name is Acedia. The Greek root of the word means the absence of care but it’s nature is much more than the experience of apathy, boredom or torpor. It seems to reside in a more spiritual place but as far as I can tell, it is not defined as a “sin” per se but monks feared like one because they discovered that nothing could poison their appetite for prayer as much as acedia. After the creation of the “seven deadly sins.” It was mistakenly lumped in with the chief-vice of sloth but acedia is not laziness... In fact, I find that acedia hides quite well in “work.”
I feel as if I have become more aware of my extended seasons of acedia as of late. They come upon me by surprise and yet when I realize how I’m affected it is almost always when I have been too careless with my margins. Acedia is the mood, or rather, the climate that is just right for all my other sins and addictions to start to bloom. I began to see how a lack of care is a ravaging destructive force because of how dis-orienting it is. It’s a sort blindness that sets in undetected and lulls the victim to sleep. It plagues my imagination until I believe I have been in the same swamp for years and I alway will be.
Thankfully, I was able to get some altitude on the situation when I had someone give my problem a name. Kathleen Norris in her book Acedia and Me finally named my Rumplestilskin. She described acedia as that which strikes at the very heart of prayer, prayer being the heart of our intimacy with God.
In Sendak’s parable, Pierre’s parents, troubled by Pierre’s plight, ( How’s that for children’s book alliteration?) attempt to suggest, persuade or command him to change but despite their efforts, he simply will not care. He will not care, that is, until Pierre is paid a visit by a lion who tries threatening him with loss and even death and when Pierre still refuses, the lion eats him whole.
It’s hard for me now, having grown up a Christian and well immersed in the Bible imagery surrounding lions as well as the cultural references from the world of Narnia and the Great Lion there. The lions from both sources are such rich mysteries, “good but not safe” as it were. They were just as liable to cuddle and protect you as they were to tear the skin from your back. Either way, these creatures always thrust you into a dangerous world... a world where you may not be safe... well, at least part of you is not. You see, there is a piece of you that as been robbed by the demon called Acedia but this person ( this acedia-half-person ) when approached by The Lion will be devoured whole and will not survive. However, what is left of you ( the “you” inside The Lion ) might just make it still.
Although I cannot say that I have had the “pleasure” often, I can remember my brushes with The Lion well... I have never walked away without scars... now that I think of it, I’m not sure I left with my life... but I can say that The Lion himself was the rescue from my acedia.
“The lion said,
“If you would care
to climb on me,
I’ll take you there.”
looked at Pierre,
“Yes, indeed I care!!”