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.”

Monday, May 04, 2009

the silent scream revisited

Bernard Nathanson’s book, The Hand of God, should be on every young person’s reading list. He describes his own journey from a broken childhood with a dictatorial doctor father, who was verbally and emotionally abusive to his mother, into his own medical career, and the pathways that led him to become one of the leading early abortion doctors, who was also a leader in the pro-choice movement. He performs 60,000 abortions over the course of his career – including that of his own child – and only when ultrasound becomes standard use, does the veil fall and he sees that the fetus is life. His arguments rest on that fundamental principle, not in all the bafflegab of pro-choice proponents who have fairly sophisticated arguments for when and how a fetus is human, and whether there’s a moral absolute, and whether a fetus can feel pain (yes, it can). He stops doing abortions in 1979, and at one point even asks one of his colleagues if he minds having the ultrasound machine on while he conducts an abortion. When his colleague sees the ultrasound results, he is sickened, and stops doing abortions himself.

The strength of Nathanson’s book is its honesty, how he became pulled and lulled into the pro-choice movement, and with good compassionate reasons. He also supports it all with some pretty shocking stats – especially gruesome are the deaths of some women seeking abortions from bad doctors. He discusses how the cream of medical crop bypasses this as a career choice, because of its scummy aftertaste, leaving the doctor dregs to perform abortions – some of them doing 30 a day.

Ironically, it is his pro-life about face that eventually leads to his conversion to Christianity. He witnesses the quiet, deep of the pro-life vigils, and prayers, and holding the mirror to his own soul, finds it lacking. He eventually becomes Catholic.
The other strength in the book is his prescriptions: prayer is vital, non-violent vigil, too – as he points out, no one was ever convinced of God’s unbounding love or of the personhood of a fetus by argument alone. It is love -- relayed through visual and emotional means -- that can successfully grab one in the gut and demonstrate the reprehensible act of abortion.