Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Acedia and Me"

One of the books I've been reading this summer is Kathleen Norris's excellent "Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks and A Writer's Life." Acedia is an archaic word that has several meanings. Most basically it means "an inability to care; indifference; apathy." Acedia was eventually absorbed into the category of "sloth" but it is more complex than simple laziness.

Acedia was considered the greatest challenge by the desert monks of Early Christianity. It was called "the noontime demon," an allusion to it being in plain sight but still very debilitating. The symptoms of acedia are very like those of depression. Norris believes that much of what is diagnosed as depression is really acedia at work.

For the monastic life the "cure" for acedia was to continue on with your life as usual, even if you didn't feel like it made a difference. This "fake it until you make it" strategy seemed to work. After a time of going through the motions, monks would report a return of their ability to care and their energy.

Acedia is still a threat to living a spiritual life. It can lure us into thinking "what I'm doing doesn't matter." That thought can plunge us into indifference or, worse, despair. At such times, it's important to keep pressing on and being patient with ourselves. These difficult times in this "spiritual desert" are preparing us for future times of renewal and spiritual fertility.

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