Chaplain's Corner + Spiritual Neglect
Some years ago there was a fast food chain advertisement tagline: “Where’s the beef?” As we look around modern society we can easily modify the tagline as a description of the current ‘state of the world’: ‘Where is the spiritual’? The dictionary word that best fits this description is sloth. Sloth is typically defined as “apathy” and inactivity in the practice of virtue.” It can also be enumerated as one of the “deadly sins,” and be considered as a neglect of God and His word.
In the book of Proverbs (19: 23-24) we read: “The fear of the Lord is unto life: and he shall abide in fullness without being visited with evil. The slothful hideth his hand under his armpit, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth.” Many of the world’s religious traditions warn of the neglect of the spiritual. Hindu writings inform us: “"When a man, having freed his mind from sloth, distraction, and vacillation, becomes as it were delivered from his mind, that is the highest point."i In Islamic tradition we read: “"O Allah! I seek refuge in You from worry and sorrow. I seek refuge in You from incapacity and sloth.”ii Buddhism lists a number of hindrances or obstructions to attaining a spiritual life. Among the five important ones listed are ‘sloth - torpor (thina-middha). It has its deleterious effect by interfering with tranquility and blocking insight.iii
The Eastern Church Spiritual Father Nikiphoros the Monk tells us a powerful method of attaining spiritual knowledge and the consequent benefits of overcoming sloth: “. . . descend into the depths of the heart, and search out the three powerful giants – forgetfulness, sloth and ignorance – which enable the rest of the evil passions to infiltrate into the self-indulgent soul, and to live, energize and flourish there.” (Philokalia IV, p. 199). St. Gregory of Sinai teaches that the virtue of courage is the immediate weapon to combat sloth. The saint goes on to tell us how it is done and the effect it would have. “They [in this case the virtue of courage] energize us by virtue of their own essence, whereas we energize them merely in an imitative way, by modelling our moral conduct upon them.” (Philokalia IV, p. 231)iv If we cultivate moral courage in our lives we can do much to bring spirituality back into the world, overcoming the neglect of the spiritual so rampant around us.
Recent news has featured statements on religion in public life by David Cameron, present Prime Minister of Great Britain and his predecessor, Tony Blair – both in the context of an increasingly Godless British government and society. While Blair was Prime Minister, the dictum of his spokesperson that "we don't do God" obtained. Since his retirement and conversion to Roman Catholicism, Mr. Blair has said that he was "too sensitive or too cautious" about religion while in government.
By contrast, in a recent public message, Cameron has had the courage to call for a return of the spiritual in public life, specifically by doing “Simple things like do to others as you would be done by; love your neighbor as yourself, the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount." May we all imitate and model this example in our own lives.
iv Palmer, G. E. H., Sherrard, P., & Ware, K. (Trans.). (1979–1999). The Philokalia: The compete text (Vols. 1–4). London, England: Faber & Faber