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A Monastery Almanac

It’s July, when the summer begins to wear even the most dedicated of sun lovers down. Life begins to feel sticky; nights get close; days get long and dry. Everything becomes a major effort; we slow down like rusted cogs on old wheels. Time suspends. Nothing much gets done. Day follows day with not much to show for any of them. Oh, yes, the Desert Mothers and Fathers knew all about that kind of thing. In ancient monasteries the warning of Evagrius to “beware the devil of the noonday sun” loomed large. Acedia they called it. Spiritual sloth. The burden of the long haul. The question in every life, of course, is how to keep on going when going on seems fruitless.

This week, for example, on July 19, we observe the First Women’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. It took 72 years after that convention for women to get the right to vote. And the women who led that fight? They were loud, they went to jail, they were dismissed by “good” women, they were denounced by ministers, they were force fed and tortured by policemen while in jail. They weren’t “nice.” They were your grandmothers. They were suffragettes. And they were right. It’s been a long, long haul and it’s not over yet.

To sustain a stay in a dry and barren desert, it is necessary to be about something great enough to be worth a lifetime of unrewarded effort. There are simply some divine cravings in life—the liberation of the poor, the equality of women, the humanity of the entire human race—that are worth striving for, living for, dying for, finished or unfinished, for as long as it takes to achieve them. No single capital campaign will do the trick. No one speech will change the climate. No single law will undo eons of damage. It will take a million lives dedicated to the long haul and heaped on top of one another.

That’s why the Zen saying, “O snail, climb Mount Fuji, but slowly, slowly,” is so important. If we are to persevere for the long haul, we must not overdrive our souls. We must immerse ourselves in good music, good reading, great beauty and peace so that everything good in us can rise again and lead us on beyond disappointment, beyond boredom, beyond criticism, beyond loss. Then life has vision again; then going on seems both possible and necessary.

—edited from A Monastery Almanac by Joan Chittister (Benetvision)