Sunday, November 22, 2009

Acedia

Accidie (Greek for 'negligence,' indifference'). By the early 5th century the word had become a technical term in Christian asceticism, signifying a state of restlessness and inability to either work or to pray. It is accounted one of the 'seven deadly sins.'
~ Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church

I must admit I was not familiar with the term until I read Kathleen Norris' latest book Acedia & Me. I loved the three other books I've read by Norris ~ A Cloister Walk, Dakota, and Amazing Grace. This book, while very different, was also excellent. In it Norris explores her own propensity to acedia ~ especially in the midst of her husbands illnesses and death.

Norris is careful to separate acedia from depression. Acedia, as she explains it, is a more spiritual affliction while depression is physical / psychological. Norris also separates acedia from the sin of sloth. While the two are related, acedia (or bad thoughts) can be more assiduous than what tends to be the outwardly visible sin of slothfulness.

Personally I would not say that I have a propensity toward acedia in the way Norris describes it, but we probably all have struggled with restlessness and dissatisfaction at one time or another. Recently I went through a dry spell in my devotional life as I struggled with some uncertainty in focus and direction. To hear that the desert fathers and mothers experienced similar periods of questioning is reassuring. Yet, it is when the questioning turns into numbness and the inability to care that true acedia sets in.

I thank Norris for her openness in writing this book. Being vulnerable is not an easy thing. Norris, a well know writer and poet, shared that in a difficult periods of acedia she encountered reviews of her books that described her as a spiritual guru of our day. It is easy to think that everyone else has it together and we are the only ones that are messed-up. That Norris made herself real in this book is a blessing. For it is when we are willing to share our own struggles that we can help other most profoundly.