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R.J. Snell – Acedia and Its Discontents
Snell uses the latter part of section two to show the possibilities and work necessary to appreciate the seemingly monotonous moments in our lives. Early on he employs the striking prose of the theologically informed cookbook of Robert Farrar Capon to show the beauty that exists even in the smallest of ingredients we interact with while preparing a dish. But how do we go about training ourselves to search for this type of beauty that is present, but hidden? For Snell, it is a matter of intelligence and how we come to perceive it. Citing Kenneth Schmitz, Snell encourages the reader to attend to things methodically. This method does not become a life of theory or abstraction, but rather a life of attunement and attention to the beauty of the “true” (81).
The final section, “Lovely Resistance” continues the work of combating acedia with the simple splendor of everyday life. This begins in chapter five with a description of Sabbath and its necessity vis-à-vis our life of work. Snell writes “in its most basic form, good work wills or approves the goodness of the world, even while developing the world in keeping with its form and rhythm” (95). The important takeaway from these final chapters is that God teaches us through ordinary things. But it is up to us to learn how to become attuned to the small wonder of the mundane, and then to protect it. To oppose sloth, the well-balanced life needs personal spiritual practices like Sabbath and contemplation, as well as communal moments of festivity.
In his last chapter, R.J. Snell speaks to the human condition as it relates to both holiness and sloth. In one of the more poignant explanations in the book, Snell refers to acedia as a type of “perverted humility” (112). A mask that we are tempted to hide behind instead of seeking out the greater possibility of a given moment. But true virtue does not exist inside the grand experience. Instead, the Divine gives mundane work to us in creation in order to make it extraordinary. The cure for sloth is remaining invested in the work that God has entrusted to humanity, and staying committed to the various disciplines of a well-ordered life (118).
Although this book’s main focus is to further add to the conversation surrounding acedia, its most important outcome could be its deduction of avoiding sloth through the embracing of work. Theologically, the subject of work is often ignored and culturally the topic is generally looked upon as problematic. R.J. Snell should be applauded for suggesting that the answer to our culture’s slothfulness and boredom is reevaluating the mental approach and perspective that we take toward our vocation.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
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