What shall we talk about, you and I,who are getting our first degrees from Queen's University today? The problem is a little easier than is usually the case, because we are both going into new jobs. I have been an author for many years, and I intend to go on being one. But being an author isn't a job -it is a state of mind ; also, it is not a gainful occupation except in a rather restricted sense. I have been earning my living as journalist for twenty years, and now I am giving up that sort of work to take a different sort of job in a university. I shall be very green at it, and I expect I shall do a lot of things the wrong way. Perhaps I shall be a failure, but I have failed at several things already,and somehow I have lived through it. Failure at a specific task is always disagreeable and sometimes it is humiliating. But there is only one kind of failure that really breaks the spirit, and that is failure in the art of life itself. That is the failure that one does well to fear.
What is it like, this failure in the art of life ? It is the failure which manifests itself in a loss of interest in really important things. It does not come suddenly, there is nothing dramatic about it, and thus it works with a dreadful advantage ; it creeps upon us, and once it has us in its grip,it is hard for us to recognize what ails us.
It is not for nothing that this failure was reckoned by medieval theologians as one of he Seven Deadly Sins. I suppose you know what they were. Wrath, Gluttony,Envy, Avarice,and Lechery are not very hard to recognize and are perilously easy to justify,by one means or another. Pride is an extremely subtle sin because it is so clever at disguising itself as something else,and those astute men St. Ambrose and St.Augustine thought it the most dangerous of all the sins. But it is the seventh which I think is particularly prevalent in our day ; medieval theologians called it Sloth.
Sloth is not really a suitable name for it now, because the word has come to mean a sluggishness and inactivity which is chiefly physical. But the sloth the theologians meant,the sloth which can damn you in this world and perhaps in the next, is spiritual.There was a better name, a Latin name,for it was also called Accidie, and it meant intellectual and spiritual torpor,indifference,and lethargy.
To be guilty of Acedia it is not necessary to be physically sluggish at all. You can be as busy as a bee. You can fill your days with activity, busting from meeting to meeting,sitting on committees, running from one party to another in a perfect whirlwind of movement. But if, meanwhile, your feelings and sensibilities are withering,if your relationships with people near to you are becoming more and more superficial, if you are losing touch even with yourself, it is Acedia which has claimed you for its own.
How can it be recognized ? Anatole France said that the great danger of increasing age was that the feelings atrophied, and we mistook the sensation for the growth of wisdom. It is true that as one grows older, one's sense of proportion may become greater, and things which troubled us or wounded us deeply in our youth seem less significant. But that is a different thing from feeling nothing deeply, and leaping to the conclusion that therefore nothing is really very important. As one grows older, one learns how to spare oneself many kinds of unnecessary pain, but one is in great danger if one ceases to feel pain of any kind. If you cannot feel pain at some of the harsh circumstances of life, it is very likely that you have ceased to feel joy at some of the satisfactions and delights of life. When that happens, one lives at all times under a mental and spiritual cloud ; it is always wet weather in the soul. That is Acedia,and it was called a Deadly Sin because it dimmed and discouraged the spirit, and at last killed it.
I am sure that all of you know some people who have yielded to Acedia. They are the dampers, the wet blankets of life. Unfortunately some of them have a great attraction for the young. Their chronic lack of enthusiasm looks so much like sophistication. They are often clever people, who are adept at putting a chilly finger on the weak spot in whatever attracts their friends. They seldom make mistakes,because they never put themselves in a position where they are not complete masters of the situation. They take a sly pleasure in the failure of others, and they are always ready to say ' I told you so '. They have made just one great-indeed monstrous -mistakes : they have died to joy and pain,and thus to feeling.
The opposites of these people are not, of course,those who allow every enthusiasm to run away with them, whose hearts always rule their heads, who go a-whoring after everything that is new. They are, on the contrary,people who take pains to keep their common sense in repair, and who keep their intelligence bright,but who also make daily efforts to meet experience withe a fresh vision, and to give to everything that comes their way the measure of feeling, of emotion, of charity and understanding -yes,and also of pain-that it needs in order to understand it.
Because you are university people, I assume that you are people in whom mind is more prominent and better trained than is feeling. If you had not had some intellectual bias -even of quite a mild sort -it is unlikely that you would be here today to receive a degree. Therefore you must take special care that,in the years ahead of you, feeling is not neglected.
The temptation to neglect feeing is strong. You see - I say this knowing that it is blasphemy within university walls -it is really very much easier to think sensibly than it is to feel sensibly. We all know what messes people get into when they feel too much and think too little ; but those people do not compel my pity so much as the hundreds of thousands whose lives are cast in a mould of midget tragedy because they think a good deal, in a strangulated, ill-nourished fashion, but hardly feel at all. These are the victims of Acedia.
Therefore I charge you, whether you are struggling under the burden of a mighty intellect,or perhaps just shuffling along with a pretty well-trained mediocre brain, to take pains not to lose your capacity to feel.
How is it to be done ? I have some practical advice for you in this struggle, which is one of the great battles of life. Take some time every day - every day -to examination what you have been doing in the light of feeling, rather than of intelligence. It may be before you fall asleep at night ; it may be while you are walking to your work ; it may be at any time when you can withdraw your attention from external matters : that is the time to ask yourself -What do I really feel about all this ? Not,what should I truly feel about it ? You must be honest with yourself, because self -deception is one of the commonest roads to Acedia.
Now it may happen that you will find that you are committed to some course of action which you do not like -which you may positively hate. And yet, for good reasons, it may be necessary to continue with it. We all have to do things we detest, at one time or another,because we are not free to consult our own wishes only. But if you know the truth,you are protected from Acedia.
Nor is it only the detestable things that should be carefully examined. You must look clearly at the things which make your life happy and enviable, and you must give yourself up to a grateful contemplation of them. Never take such things for granted. I have seen many a promising marriage shrivel and dry up because one or both of the partise to it assumed that happiness was something that came by right,and could never be diminished. Consciously summoning up,and consciously enjoying,the good things that life brings us is a way of preserving them. It is not in their nature to last forever ; they will change, and if you cherish them gratefully, the change is much more likely to be a change for the better than if you accept them as gifts which a grateful providence has showered upon you as a recognition of your magnanimity in condescending to inhabit the earth.
I have never been able to make up my mind which it is that people fear to feel most -pain or joy.life will bring you both. You will not be able to escape the pain completely, though acedia will dull it a little. But unfortunately it lies in your power to reject the joy utterly. Because we are afraid that great exultation may betray us into some actions, some words,which may make us look a little foolish to people who are not sharing our experience, we very often stifle our moments of joy,thinking that we shall give them their outlet later. But alas, after a few years of that kind of thing,joy ceases to visit us. I seem to be quoting theologians this afternoon. There is an old saying of medieval teachers which I recommend to your special notice:
Time Jesum transeuntem et non revertentem.
Time Jesum transeuntem et non revertentem.
I shall translate it thus: ' Dread the passing of Jesus, for He does not return.' And thus it is with all great revelations, be they religious or not. Seize them,embrace them,let them engulf you, draw from them the uttermost of what they have to give, for if you rebuff them,they will not come again. We live in a world where too many people are pitifully afraid of joy. Because I wish you well, I beg you not to add yourself to their number.
Do not put off the moment of decision. Begin now. This is your hour. You are shortly to receive one of the great distinctions of your lifetime. Don't worry about looking dignified ; don't be afraid that your pleasure may betray you into some lapse from that nullity of demeanour which we so pathetically accept as a substitute for true dignity. Don't accept your BA as if it were one more padlock on the inmost chamber of your heart. Education,if it is real and not a sham, is a releasing, not an imprisoning, thing. If you wish it to be so, the achievement of your degree is a step toward a new freedom. What is the word in your heart as you accept your diploma ? Is it No-or is it Yes?
2010-03-11 19:35 编辑：kuaileyingyu