Lilith, checked in her monotonous gabble by the radiant vision who let in the sun’s new light, stared at it with old and blinking eyes. She saw the shape of a woman; and did not know beatitude, however young. She supposed this also to be in need of something other than the Omnipotence. She said, separating with difficulty words hardly distinguishable from gabble: ‘I can help you.
‘That’s kind of you,’ Pauline answered, ‘but I haven’t come to you for myself.’
‘I can help anyone,’ the old woman said, carefully enunciating the lie. … Illusion, more lasting in her than in any of her victims, was in her. At the moment of destruction she still pressed nostrums upon the angelic visitor who confronted her. She broke again into gabble, in which Pauline could dimly make out promises, of health, of money, of life, or their appearances, of good looks and good luck, or a belief in them, of peace and content, or a substitute for them.
—Charles Williams, Descent Into Hell
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I’ve hit a wall. I would say I’m in despair, but I don’t think that’s quite true. I certainly feel despair; I honestly cannot tell by introspection whether I’ve surrendered to it; I haven’t given up my duties as a man and a Christian—I don’t fulfill them particularly well, but I acknowledge them and make some effort to observe them—so I think I haven’t succumbed.
The sensation of despair comes simply from the fact that I don’t want to be chaste, don’t feel bad when I fuck around, and don’t see why I should do or want otherwise. I don’t love Christ enough to obey him for his own sake, and I don’t fear him enough (or trust him enough, maybe?) to obey him for my own sake. All I have is the bare, cold principle that this ought to be done. And I’ve found out that, at the cost that principle exacts from me, I can’t do it. Or won’t. The strength of sin is the law.
Orthodox Chapel of the Holy Trinity, Mount Sinai
Being without a husband, being bereft of specifically erotic love, is agonizing to me. It isn’t just the depression: I’ve been on Zoloft long enough to know the difference. And I know the arguments about the sacramental meaning of sex like the back of my hand, but when you’re lonely any argument is a whole lot of bullshit, and no friendship can truly substitute for a lover—they’re just not the same thing, they don’t meet the same need, they don’t touch the same wound in the soul. I have yet to hear the Catholic doctrine of sex (which I accept categorically) articulated in a way that made that reality seem important enough to warrant the cost it imposes on me.
I wish I could say ‘me and those like me’ there. But I have a nasty suspicion that, if the shoe were on the other foot, I’d be totally prepared to be merely sympathetic to people who were suffering. To just feel so sad for them, but point out that emotions can’t be allowed to change principles, and leave it at that. In short, to be a complete asshole. So I guess that’s one good thing to come out of this.
But I’m left with the sheer, brutal, staring fact that I don’t want to be chaste, not because it isn’t fun (though, no, it is not fucking fun), but because as far as I know it’s both miserable and pointless. I assent to the thesis that it’s the limits of my knowing that puts that complexion on things. But here I am, and I resent God for asking this of me, because I don’t understand.
There is a demon that the saints, especially the desert fathers, recognized in this vein—the one that comes in the daytime, during our work, to propel us further into nothingness. He was called ‘the noonday devil’ … The name of the state he tempts us to is called acedia, which is a form of despair when life itself is seen as hopeless drudgery, even if it is a necessary drudgery. This again is why the drug addict is our prophet. The drug addict is not ‘idle’—he works diligently, but his work is a slow downward spiral and an accepted and acted upon despair. Acedia also knows and even believes that man was made for great things, but does not have the hope or magnanimity to reach them. He hates that they are reachable and wishes he was called to less.1
Which I recognize as the truth. And yet another part of me snipes back: if God wants me so bad, why does he make things so damn hard? Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior.
The difference between this and despair? I guess I am still waiting for him to answer me, to say something. I keep coming back to him—angrier and unhappier every time, it seems, but again and again. It’s been said that the Church is the cross on which Christ is crucified; I am the nails. It must hurt him horribly, the way I act, or am, but he is the one who refuses the twelve legions of angels in favor of staying close to Gabriel. That thou doest, do quickly, he said to Judas. It doesn’t make rational sense; but poetically, nothing else is possible.
For some reason this feels like a really good way to start Lent. Certainly it’s better to be frank—I mean, it isn’t like God doesn’t know what you’re thinking, so you might as well actually talk to him about it. I don't know how to break out of the illusion, but I know that I am subject to an illusion: we have a place to start.
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1‘The Name of the Demon That Steals Rest, Makes You Scroll, And Inspires Overworking’ by Jason Craig at Those Catholic Men. Read this piece thanks to a friend, and it knocked a little sense into me—my original concept for this post was much more bitter and hopeless, if you can imagine.