Acedia is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It is a “capital vice,” in that it is a source of many other faults. In the modern list of sins, you’ll find Sloth rather than Acedia, but sloth, which we interpret as idleness or laziness, isn’t the same thing.
Idleness, in the medieval view, means that a man prefers to forgo the rights, or if you prefer the claims, that belong to his nature. In a word, he does not want to be as God wants him to be, and that ultimately means that he does not wish to be what he really, fundamentally, is. Acedia is the ‘despair from weakness’ which Kierkegaard analysed as the ‘despairing refusal to be oneself’. Metaphysically and theologically, the notion of acedia means that a man does not, in the last resort, give the consent of his will to his own being; that behind or beneath the dynamic activity of his existence, he is still not at one with himself, or, as the medieval writers would have said, face to face with the divine good within him; he is a prey to sadness (and that sadness is the tristitia saeculi of Holy Scripture).
That Latin phrase refers to II Corinthians 7:10, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation… but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” [Emphasis added]
One of the sins that springs from Acedia is despair. Acedia is a sin against the fourth commandment (Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy), and its opposite is love.
Kierkegaard’s phrase, “despairing refusal to be oneself” is what first caught my attention. Pieper later says that “despair and the incapacity for leisure are twins,” and that “Leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself; when he acquiesces in his own being.
What does that mean, to acquiesce in ones own being? What is your own being? The imago dei? Your personality or character? Your “bents” and inborn preferences? Your limitations because of circumstances, physical abilities, hormones? I don’t know the answer.
Whatever Acedia is, Pieper says its opposite is not work, but “man’s happy and cheerful affirmation of his own being, his acquiescence in the world and in God – which is to say love.” So loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is the place to start. Eagerness for work will certainly be a result of this love, but the work itself isn’t the point.
All this is important in understanding leisure because leisure isn’t a vacation or spare time, it’s “a mental and spiritual attitude.” In order to be at leisure, one must possess an inward calm, must know how to be silent in the face of life’s difficulties, must be “content to let things take their course.”
Another important element of leisure is “the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation,” which tells me how important it is let our children be outdoors a lot, just playing and enjoying it, as well as leading them in focused nature studies.
Feast days and holy days are also important, not only because they lift us out of the workaday world, but because they make us accept the reality and goodness of the creation and of our participation in God’s purposes. Leisure flows out of this kind of celebration.
Leisure is what keeps man Man, and not just a functionary in society, a cog in the machine.