“Dante ties anger, which entails caring too much about the wrong things, to acedia, which is caring too little about the right ones.” Acedia and Me, page 202
This sentence from Kathleen Norris’ book made me pause and reflect: Does anger really mean that I care overmuch for unimportant things? Is my interrupted quiet time more important than my son’s need to talk? Is that broken cup worth spewing out words that I can’t take back? The questions may be rhetorical, but they can still sting.
Norris suggests that when we are angry–especially when the anger isn’t verbalized–it comes out in action: a duty is done with resentment, carelessly. And so acedia, non-care, rears its head.
When I sweep away my concern for the right things, the best things, and cease to focus my heart, mind and actions on them, that vacuum is easily filled with more trivial desires. My thwarted will, in the midst of an otherwise empty room, seems hugely important. Any real or imagined slight by my family festers there; perhaps the laundry piles up or a requested item on the grocery list is ‘forgotten’…
Jonah couldn’t bring himself to care about the Ninevites, even after he had preached repentance to them. His resentment of God’s mercy emerged when he became unreasonably angry over the withered gourd whose shade he had enjoyed. His energies were turned inward to his own gratification, and he resented what spoiled his comfort.
What Jonah needed to realize was that God was NOT asking him to minister out of his own superior strength and holiness. Norris points out in an earlier chapter that “we engender compassion not through our strengths but through our common weaknesses.” Jonah was supposed to offer the same mercy that he and all Israel had received.
Prayer (no surprise) is the antidote here. My devotional last week gave me a good quotation to round out this relating of anger and acedia:
“I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me…There is no dislike, no personal tension, no estrangement that cannot be overcome by intercession as far as our side of it is concerned…To make intercession means to grant our brother the same right that we have received, namely, to stand before Christ and share in His mercy” (from Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer).