For one of the two papers I’ve got due, I’m discussing acedia, a kind of occupational hazard of monastics, also called “listlessness,” or “sloth,” if it’s something you did to cause it. I came across a quote out of Cassian’s Conferences:
From carelessness on our part, when through our own faults, coldness has come upon us, and we have behaved carelessly and hastily, and owing to slothful idleness have fed on bad thoughts, and so make the ground of our heart bring forth thorns and thistles; which spring up in it, and consequently make us sterile, and powerless as regards all spiritual fruit and meditation.
Sloth, being the opposite of zeal, is that which makes “the ground of our heart[s] bring forth thorns and thistles.” I’m sure most people have experienced this at least once, a dry time so complete, everything feels like a waste. Burnout, depression, the “noonday demon.” But what about its opposite, zeal? The OED definition is “ardent love or affection” or “fervent devotion.” Also: “ardent desire or longing.”
If sloth is that which makes our hearts into a wasteland, zeal is what makes them fertile. It’s having a longing, or some sort of love for our work. I think most of us know a person, or people, who had an infectious desire and love for their discipline. It’s one in which you can’t help but be inspired by their love. They never bash you over the head with expectations, but lead you to the same kind of devotion and affection that they first had for their work.
In students, it’s the person you thought never cared, who winds up at your empty office hour (or so was my experience in my Master’s) to discuss some point. They’re the people who make all the dry times and bureaucratic hassle worth it.