Doing Nothing and Liking it That Way

by Marjorie George

The TV weather man has pointed out that last summer, when we had seasonally-sufficient rain, the cicadas were out every night with their melodic vibrations — the unmistakable and memorable sound of summer.

This summer, nothing. Nothing but stifling, muggy heat under an oppressive heat-high umbrella that blocks refreshing rain and cool breezes. Even the local swimming pool is warm as a bathtub. Algae and bacteria thrive in our stagnant, dwindling lakes and rivers.

The slothfulness of summer. We are as though hanging upside down in large-canopied trees, nibbling occasionally on small leaves that give us little sustenance, beset with inertia, sleep-walking through the days.

Our spiritual lives fare no better, laziness begetting laziness. Curious thing about the sloth: its meager diet of leaves does little to provide energy. The sloth compensates not by eating better but by doing less. Giant claws allow it to grasp a tree branch with a minimum of muscle. Consequently, the skinny muscles can do little more than hang on. So sedentary is the sloth that green algae often grow on its furry coat. The better to hide in its listless habitat.

Sloth is the common name we give to accedia, a malady that, as Doug Earle identifies in his essay, below, “describes a restless, chronic boredom . . .,” an unwillingness to do the hard work of spiritual growth, emotional growth, relational growth. It’s just too tempting to quit trying, to hang out on the tree branch all day long and curse the heat. Or the cold. Or the rain. Or the drought.

The sloth has adapted to itself, becoming half-blind, half-deaf, and moving at one-quarter the speed  of a human’s. It works well enough in its environment; but there it must live, and eat, and mate, and give birth. On the ground, the sloth is useless, for it cannot outrun or outfight any predator that comes upon it. Its only defense is to hiss and bite and bluster around a bit. Most predators just go ahead and eat it.

Our best defense against sloth this summer, it seems to me, is to develop a rigorous spiritual life. Zeal is the opposite of sloth. Make the effort to go to church, delve into our Bibles, commit to reading a good book about the spiritual life, and set aside time to spend with God.

As sure as last winter was followed by this summer, this summer will become fall, and the first cool front will enliven us again. Unless we are still hanging out on a tree branch, eating our tiny little leaves.

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at

Read more about sloth in Doug Earle’s essay and Mid-week on the Web, both below.