St. John explains "tedium of the spirit" in this way: "Tedium is a paralysis of the soul, a slackness of the mind, a neglect of religious exercises, a hostility to vows taken. It is an approval of things worldly." The word for despondency in the Greek is "akidia" and it indicates a listlessness or torpor. The best English word that could be used to explain this is the word "BOREDOM" or perhaps we could even use the word "DISTRACTION." Very often, it begins with a loss of a sense of purpose and ends in despair and spiritual death. St. John gives numerous examples which are sure to strike home to us.
In our day and age, this demon is very much at work. How often does he confuse us with the suggestion that our spiritual labors are in vain!? How often does he suggest to us that our efforts are accomplishing no good result? How often does he point out to us many others who seem to be "gaining ground" without laboring as hard as we are? How often does he suggest that we shouldn't take the spiritual life quite seriously? How often does he remind us of our failures and suggest that perhaps we are wasting our time in pursuing the spiritual life? How often does he weigh our hearts down with earthly cares and thoughts even in the midst of our prayers? How often does he encourage us to take a day off, to sleep in and skip our prayers, to take a spiritual vacation? How often does the demon of boredom confuse our thoughts so that we forget what the goal is and how we are to achieve it?
How do we battle such a powerful demon? St. John suggest two things: Perseverance in the course taken and cooperation with others who are struggling. The only way to beat boredom is to labor through it. Once we have been started on a certain path of prayer and struggle, we must keep on keeping on without allowing ourselves to be distracted. Furthermore, we beat boredom by reminding ourselves of what others have done and are doing. Tedium is rebuffed by the common life and by the constant remembrance of the lives of the saints. Knowing that we are not alone, gives us the encouragement and motivation to persevere when we feel like quitting.
1-2 Despondency defined: its causes and qualities.
Tedium is a paralysis of the soul, a slackness of the mind, a neglect of religious exercises, a hostility to vows taken. It is an approval of worldly things. It is a voice claiming that God has no mercy and no love for men. It is a laziness in the singing of the psalms, a weakness in prayer, a stubborn urge for service, a dedication to the work of the hands, an indifference to the requirement of obedience. An obedient person does not know such tedium, for he has used the things of the senses to reach the level of the spirit.
3 The forms of life that are particularly subject to this vice.
Tedium is rebuffed by community life, but she is a constant companion of the hermit, living with him until the day of his death, struggling with him until the very end. She smiles at the sight of a hermit's cell and comes creeping up to live nearby.
4 The time of day when this when the demon of despondency shows itself and is most powerful.
The doctor calls on the sick in the morning, but tedium visits the hermit at noon.
5 How this demon uses every means to lead a monk away from solitude, silence and prayer.
Tedium loves to be involved in hospitality, urges the hermit to undertake manual labor so as to enable him to give alms, and exhorts us to visit the sick, recalling even the words of Him Who said, "I was sick and you came to visit me" (Matt. 25:36). Tedium suggest we should call on the despairing and the fainthearted, and she sets one languishing heart to bring comfort to another. Tedium reminds those at prayer of some job to be done, and in her brutish way she searches out any plausible excuse to drag us from prayer, as though with some kind of halter.
6 How it shows its itself and works on a monk at different times of the day.
At the third hour, the devil of tedium causes shivering, headache, and vertigo. By the ninth hour, the patient has recovered his strength, and when dinner is ready, he jumps out of bed. But now when the time for prayer comes, his body begins to languish once more. He begins his prayers, but the tedium makes him sleepy and the verses of the psalms are snatched from his mouth by untimely yawns.
7-9 Why despondency is the gravest of the eight deadly sins.
There is a particular virtue available to overcome all the other passions. But tedium is a kind of total death for the monk.
A brave soul can stir up his dying mind, but tedium and laziness scatter every one of his treasures.
Tedium is one of the eight deadly vices, and indeed the gravest of them all, and so I must discuss it as I did the others. Still, just not this much. When the psalms do not have to be sung, tedium does not arise, and the Office is hardly over when the eyes are ready to open again.
10 The great spiritual gain that comes from fighting against it.
The real men of spirit can be seen at the time when tedium strikes, for nothing gains so many crowns for a monk as the struggle against this. Note how tedium hits you when you are standing, and if you sit down, it suggests that it would be a good thing to lean back. It suggest that you prop yourself up against the walls of your cell. It produces noise and footsteps - and there you go peeping out the window.
11 The means by which it is prevented and overcome. John reveals its many sources and offspring and how they may be mastered.
The man who mourns for himself does not suffer from tedium. This tyrant should be overcome by the remembrance of past sins, battered by hard manual labor and brought to book by the thought of the blessings to come. And when led before the tribunal, let these be questions put to him: "You there! You crass and sluggish creature, what was it that evilly begot the likes of you? Who are your children? Who are your enemies? Who can destroy you?" And tedium may be constrained to reply: "I cannot lay my head among those who are truly obedient, and I live quietly where I may. I have many mothers - - Stolidity of Soul, Forgetfulness of the Things of Heaven, or, sometimes, Too Heavy a Burden of Troubles. My children who live with me are Changing from Place to Place, Disobedience to One's Superior, Forgetfulness of the Judgment to Come, and sometimes, the Abandonment of One's Vocation. The singing of psalms and manual labor are my opponents by whom I am now bound. My enemy is the thought of death, but what really slays me is prayer backed by a firm hope in the blessings of the future. . . .
This is the thirteenth victory. He who has won it is really outstanding in all virtue.