Now thus says the Lord of hosts: / Consider your ways! You have sown much, but have brought in little; / you have eaten, but have not been satisfied; / You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated; / have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed; / And whoever earned wages / earned them for a bag with holes in it.Haggai 1: 5-6
The words of Haggai have a powerful resonance in our present day. No less than the people who lived in the second year of King Darius, we act much of the time without “considering” our ways. We are so swept up in our own immediacies that we fail to consider the command to build the house of God on earth. We think and act and live as if we had no idea, in the deeper sense, of what we live for.
In American culture we proclaim that we live under the ideals and words of the “Declaration of Independence.” We live, so we say, in the “land of the free.” But to sow, to eat, to drink, to clothe ourselves and to earn our wages without “consideration” is hardly to be free. Many if not most of us live the lives we are told to live, we espouse the values that are incessantly communicated to us, and we work to accumulate wealth that we put in a bag or purse with holes in it. We work to spend so that we then can work more for the sake of those whose wealth controls the public and increasingly private lives of all of us.
Other translations of today’s passage from Haggai replace the word “consider” with the words “give careful thought.” Most of the time we do not give careful thought to the source of our actions. We do not live as free persons but rather as reactors to the demands of the environment. We often live and act without awareness of our influence on “the nature and quality of other people’s lives,” as Toni Morrison puts it. In Haggai’s time the people lived under the conventional wisdom that it was not yet time to build the Lord’s house. So, their lives were not directed by their ultimate goal or dream. We build our worlds, large and small, but our efforts find no fulfillment if what we build is not in service to the dream, in our case the dream of the Kingdom of God.
In the early ages of the Church the desert fathers and mothers spoke of the capital sin of acedie. They called it “the noonday demon.” They spoke of that tiredness and laziness that would overcome them at midday, when their bodies would resist their efforts of awareness and prayerfulness and would be lulled into sleepiness and torpor. In our time, such spiritual laziness, or literally “not caring,” often takes the form of frenetic activity. Being successful in our world involves the mindlessness of over-stimulation and involvement. For us, to be alive and to be valuable is to be busy. Much of that activity in which we engage is in service not to the dream of building God’s house or the Kingdom of God but rather in service to the dream of accumulation and consumption. Despite our best intentions, to live and work out of such a motive will inevitably lead to a disregard if not negation of the personal.
Father Adrian van Kaam’s anthropology describes our functional capacity as the bridge between our transcendent or spiritual dimension and our social and vital dimension. We are living distinctively human lives when our rational-functional dimension is a servant of our transcendent potential. When it is not a servant of the transcendent it becomes, in the drive of our unconscious, a servant of the social and vital dimensions. When we are spiritually careless or lazy, we shall, by default, function in reaction to the pulsations of our culture, the impulses and drives of our vital dimension, and the non-spiritually enlightened ambitions to which these give rise. That is, our life and work become a project of our culturally and vitally permeated ego.
We fail to “consider” our ways because it is hard work. It is easier to conform to the forces around us, to go with the flow of our own unconscious than it is to consider the “dream” and to feely choose our lives and works in accordance with the aspirations and inspirations of the Spirit. Recently I have become aware of how my inability to remain spiritually attentive and awake to what was occurring within myself kept me from serving the work of God’s Spirit to the degree it was possible. My need to dissociate and be unaware of the depth of my own suffering deeply affected my wakefulness and attentiveness to the movements and counter movements to the Spirit during a meeting in which I was participating. It is the nature of our own infra-conscious to tranquilize that which pains or disturbs us. Yet, that tranquilization comes at a cost, for it also tranquilizes our presence to the rest of our field, to our outer reality.
From that place of tranquilization we live not a considered life, a life open and attuned to inspiration, but rather we go through the motions of living. So, as those in Haggai’s time, we sow, we eat, we drink, we clothe ourselves, and we earn our wages, but we never do our work in the world. We never fulfill our responsibility, not only for our own lives, but for the lives of others. When we live by problem-solving or crisis management we never get to living “the very sacred life [we] have chosen to live.” To truly be free is to choose, and, as Deuteronomy says, it is to choose life. It is to choose our life, which is at its core “response-ability,” for ourselves, for others, and to God.
Perhaps one of the greatest sicknesses of our time is our refusal to take the time to “consider,” that is, to “give careful thought” to what we are about to do, or say, or work at. It is to fail to awaken to our responsibility for life, ours and that of others. To awaken to our responsibility is not a source of worry or apprehension. To worry without acting responsibly is but another mode of evasion. I know I am kept up at night not by my responsibility but by my failure or refusal to act responsibly. It is not our mistakes that most disturb us; it is our refusals to do what we can, as fully and responsibly as we can.
Recently in reading about Massimo Borghesi’s The Mind of Pope Francis, I came across a quote from an 18th century Hungarian Jesuit, Gabriel Hevenisi. He wrote: ““Trust in God as though your success in what you do depends on you and not on God; but work as if your efforts mean nothing, but God alone does everything.” Now it is very interesting that this insight came down to us in quite a different form. We are all familiar with the somewhat now clichéd version: “Work as if everything depended upon you; pray as if everything depended upon God.” Hevenesi actually said the opposite. He said we are to trust (to pray) as if all depends on us, but work as if all depends on God. There is a powerful difference in these sayings. Hevenesi’s acknowledges the polarity contained in our trusting/praying and in our work. We trust and so we work; we work because we know that what must be done must be the work of God. If we work as if our efforts mean nothing, we shall give all we have without anxiety about the result. We shall not limit our effort, our work, because of our fear of limit or failure, for it is God alone who gives the growth, who effects the results.
To fall asleep in acedia is to fear the responsibility for life. It is to fear our own limitation and fallibility. If we remember that “God alone does everything,” then we can dare to be present to truth, however it might threaten to overwhelm us, and give the little that we have, because we trust in the work of God.
We are already life-chosen by ourselves. Humans, and as far as we know there are no others. We are the moral inhabitants of the galaxy. Why trash that magnificent obligation after working so hard in the womb to assume it? You will be in positions that matter. Positions in which you can decide the nature and quality of other people’s lives. Your errors may be irrevocable. So when you enter those places of trust, or power, dream a little before you think, so your thoughts, your solutions, your directions, your choices about who lives and who doesn’t, about who flourishes and who doesn’t will be worth the very sacred life you have chosen to live. You are not helpless. You are not heartless. And you have time.Toni Morrison, “Sarah Lawrence Commencement Address” in The Source of Self Regard, p. 73