You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’ For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler… You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday
Psalm 91:1-2, 5-6
It feels like someone left the oven door open! It’s 112 degrees in the desert today and waves of heat shimmer along the burning asphalt road. My radio alarm roused me this morning with news of yet another “excessive heat warning”, and I had to fight the temptation to turn over and going back to sleep. The blazing summer heat is draining.
I am reminded of my mother who about this time of year would heave a sigh and a chuckle about how her “get up and go, got up and went”. Sometimes it takes all the energy and determination one can muster just to do the smallest thing. Prayer can be hard in the summer, along with church attendance, Bible reading, and forgiving one’s neighbor. Ask your minister or priest and they’ll tell you how difficult it is to get anything going at church during the heat of summer. Our thoughts wander to the mountains or beach.
Imagine my relief to discover that we are not the first generation to wither in the summer heat. Without air conditioners, icemakers, or sunscreen, the Desert Fathers of the third and fourth century languished under the North African sun as they sought to live more holy lives. They diagnosed and understood this summertime apathy of soul. They recognized that it was at noon, when the blistering sun was directly overhead, they were most tempted to forget their prayers and God. They recalled today’s Scripture text which speaks of “the destruction that wastes at noonday” and tried their best to guard against what they called “the noonday demon”.
The Desert Fathers called this demon that wastes destruction at noonday: acedia. The word acedia means, at it’s Greek root, “not to care”. They knew it as that spiritually dangerous state of not caring. Acedia renders one even incapable of caring about not caring. It wastes the body and the soul. I recently saw the not caring of acedia on a bumper sticker that simply read, “WHATEVER”.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines acedia as “a state of restlessness and inability to either work or to pray”. It is that toxic mixture of boredom and lethargy that makes us susceptible to the thought that prayer is not worth the effort. It’s just too hot!
Evagrius of Pontus (A. D. 345-399) was among the first to dissect the dangers of the noonday demon. Evagrius warned that of all the temptations we ever face, acedia, or not caring, is the most dangerous. He observed how acedia strikes most destructively in the heat of the day:
“The demon of acedia, also called the noonday demon, is the most oppressive of all the demons. He attacks towards the fourth hour (10:00 a.m. ) and besieges the soul until the eighth hour (2:00 p.m.). He begins by giving the impression that the sun is hardly moving, or not moving at all, and that the day has at least forty hours.”
With a warning about the noonday demon, Evagrius also gave this encouragement: “No other demon follows close upon the heels of this one (when he is defeated) but only a state of deep peace and inexpressible joy arise out of this struggle”. If we can just get through the spiritual apathy of acedia we will experience the richest treasures this side of Heaven.
But how? How do we make it through acedia and the spiritual doldrums of summer?
Without benefit of retreating to the mountains or beach, the Desert Fathers learned that the way through spiritual apathy was in daily praying the Psalms. In this they handed down to the church a great spiritual resource. Which brings us back to today’s Scripture text chosen from the Psalms.
The psalmist lived in a desert no less threatening than that of the Desert Fathers and knew intimately “the destruction that wastes at noonday”. In fact, “the psalms evoke vivid pictures of the terror of sunstroke and heat exhaustion perhaps most vividly in the image of the sun as a malevolent foe that strikes by day” (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery).
But the psalmist tells us how he found safety, refuge, protection, and shade in God. He learned to daily live his life “in the shelter of the Most High” and to continually say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust”.
Yes, it’s blazing hot again today! My get up and go is ready to leave me. I’m tempted to say, “Whatever!” But I begin this day with you God. I will live today in your shelter and shade. I will say to you: “You are my refuge today, my fortress. In you I will trust. So please, please don’t let me sink into not caring!”
Grace and Peace,
photo by Danie Swanepoel