Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.
from Ash Wednesday by T.S. Eliot
Reading Betty Duffy’s latest piece over at Patheos, “Things are . . . O.K.,” but I’m Ready to Care, Again, I definitely recognized myself. I all too often struggle with acedia, that not-caring feeling. I spend too much time clicking on the computer, too little time doing the boring tasks that must be done. And yet here’s my current struggle: I know from experience of four previous pregnancies that during the first trimester I feel wretched pretty much most of the time. I’m exhausted and queasy and find it hard to function normally. So I have learned that it is necessary to give myself permission to be less than the best. But there’s the danger: I give myself permission not to care too much and somehow I start to lose the ability to care at all.
It’s a terrible tightrope act, trying to achieve some semblance of balance. How do I tell the difference between acedia and real pregnancy-induced exhaustion? Am I spending the afternoon on the couch because I am genuinely tired or have I just given in, given up? I do need to recognize my limitations and accept them, accept this season of life when I move more slowly than I like and accomplish in a day only a fraction of what I would like to accomplish. I do need to accept the mess of an untidy house and gritty floors and eating off a table messy with yesterday’s crumbs and kids who eat only plain pasta for dinner because yet again I failed at planning a nutritious, balanced meal with something that everyone will like to eat. And yet I also need to strive each day to do my best, to discern motivations, to be honest about whether I am being lazy or really am tired. Except, that discernment seems like a lot of work right now. I’m not sure I care why I’m on the couch, I don’t want to get up and move. I just want to sit here and click the afternoon away, hoping the nausea and exhaustion will pass and dinner will miraculously appear. And maybe I also need to accept that that’s a part of this season too? That sometimes I’m going to err on the side of lazy? Maybe I need to stop reading blogs that tell me about the virtues of caring and of clean baseboards and of doing creative projects with my kids? Maybe I need to focus on my children, my house, my situation and keep my eye on my own work?
For everything there is a season? Is there a season for giving up, giving in, accepting less than what I think is the least I can do? Is there a season for letting go of the goal of spiritual improvement and just accepting spiritual sloth (or what closely resembles it) as a byproduct of producing a new life? For not worrying too much about how long it’s been since my last confession and how shabby and pitiful my prayer life is? Where does this voice keep coming from that tells me I need to care more? Is it guilt or God? At some point I stop caring, pick up a novel and skip Evening Prayer, skip Compline. I ease into the less uncomfortable world of literary escape and put off the business of caring to another day, knowing that God cherishes me even in the midst of my muddle, that either way the sticks fall I will have another chance and another and another.
And I turn finally, to my beloved Eliot, to poetry where I find echoes of my soul and it’s struggles, where I find the courage to stop struggling, to accept the quiet life of the dry bone:
Because I do not hope to turn again[. . .]
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us[. . .]
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death[. . .]
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.