Sheltering in Place with the Noonday Demon
The monks and nuns of old isolated themselves from human society. Think of the stay-at-home order we’re under as a mandate to live a semi-monastic lifestyle for the next month.
In the fourth century a monk named Evagrius identified eight bad thoughts that bedeviled monks and nuns in their struggle for perfection. Sometimes Evagrius would personify a bad thought as a demon. As we shelter in place, we would do well to beware of what Evagrius called “the noonday demon.” This fellow makes it seem as though the sun were standing still, and every day lasted 50 hours! He tempts us to check our watches or phones constantly to see if it’s dinnertime yet. Our apartments or houses come to feel like prisons to us. He even instills a hatred for life itself. The days ahead seem to stretch out for a monotonous eternity.
Once this happens, it appears to us that Christian love has vanished everywhere. If a family member offends us, the noonday demon persuades us to nurture a grudge. The demon’s goal was to break the will of our monastic ancestors to continue in the lifestyle to which God had called them. For us, his goal may be to see us at each other’s throats under the stress of the quarantine, rather than supporting one another.
How do you defeat the noonday demon? Evagrius says, Divide your soul in two. Devote one half to encouraging other people, and devote the other half to seeking encouragement. Where can we find encouragement? Evagrius recommends Psalm 42:11. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Interrogate your thoughts and feelings. Are they really telling you the truth? Then hope in God. God heals the sick, raises the dead, and makes us members of an invisible body. If this Good News inspires little hope today, trust that it will, one day. Hope that hope will return.
“The time of temptation is not the time to leave one’s cell, devising plausible pretexts,” wrote Evagrius. For us that means, “Obey the mayor’s order. Maintain social distance.” The noonday demon is our greatest enemy, he states, greater than lust or greed or pride, but “defeating him will effect the greatest purification of the soul.” So let us give thanks, FPC folk. The far side of this experience holds out the promise that we’ll be better people then than we are today!
For further reading:
Evagrius Ponticus. The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer. Translated, with an introduction, by
John Eudes Bamberger, OCSO. Collegeville MN: The Liturgical Press, 1972.