Thursday, May 07, 2009

Acedia & Me

Having not slept well last night, I took to my bed this morning as soon as Anna was out the door to school, and snuggled up with Kathleen Norris’s latest book Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life.

In between fits of catnaps, I read it, and it struck a deep chord, echoing my own faith (or faithless) journey in her biography of churchgoing childhood, to adolescence and young womanhood of agnosticism, and eventually back to the church, to faith, and one hopes into the love of God. But no journey is so simple, especially one beset by the sin of acedia, sloth, lassitude, listlessness, despair, depression, or whatever you wish to call your own noonday demon.

It’s this acedia I have been suffering with the last several months, and possibly for much, much longer. I wish I could find something funny to say about it, but in some ways humour can be an effective shield against honesty, and losing faith, in yourself if not in God, requires no small amount of self-reflective honesty. And it’s not all that funny, either.

So far, about a quarter of the way into the book, it does seem as though Norris is suggesting that the antidote to acedia (for it is truly as poisonous as a serpent’s bite), is digging in deeper to commitments – to one’s self, to life, to your spouse, your friends, your vocation, your God. It seems to be a complete cessation of desire – which is a sickness of the will and consequently the heart – and in modern Dr Phil terms, the prescription is fake it til you make it.

Of course Norris is much more eloquent that Dr Phil, and one sentence in particular seemed to sum up what I have been feeling much of lately. Listlessness has a seductively soft sound, but at root, it means being unable to desire, which is a cause, and a symptom, of serious mental distress. What most of us do is delve deeper into distraction – the worst thing, Norris says – because it makes us “in danger of becoming immunized from feeling itself.”

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