I am not one to write down quotes or mark in books, but this book is something pretty special. There was something beautiful or thought-provoking on almost every page.
Acedia & Me is Kathleen Norris’ account of her experiences with acedia. Acedia, as I mentioned last week, is a listlessness or despair that is different than depression. It was one of the “eight bad thoughts” that desert monks used to define how we should and should not think. That list eventually evolved into the “seven deadly sins” and acedia was left off the list. It seems like it was left off the list for a number of reasons – it is similar to sloth, for one thing, and it doesn’t involve an action like the other “deadly sins” do. Acedia is, in fact, mostly about inaction.
Merton comments that the “sadness caused by adversity and trial in social life” generally comes from “a lack of peace with others.” But acedia is far more insidious: it is “the sadness, the disgust with life, which comes from a much deeper source–our inability to get along with ourselves, our disunion with God.”
One thing I find so interesting about this is the idea that our thoughts are what is important, not our actions. I think we send the opposite message to our youth today. Everything seems to be about actions. We talk a lot more about not having sex than we do about lust. We talk a lot more about giving to the needy than greed in our own hearts. I know that in high school I had quite a bit of pride about how much I was not sinning compared to my classmates. Which is pretty sick and twisted, if you think about it.
Now, I think that depression is real and serious and that it’s something that needs to be treated seriously. I think that I have suffered in the past from depression, and I think that talking to a counselor was helpful. But I also think that I have suffered from acedia – a sense of despair and a lack of motivation on a more spiritual level that has nothing to do with outward circumstances.
And that’s why I enjoyed this book so much. It was very specific in its discussions of how consistent prayer, fighting for her marriage, and the discipline of writing help her fight off the tendency toward acedia. It’s also, like all of her work, beautiful. I will need to read it again to really take it in, but I highly highly recommend it. One of the best books I’ve read this year, without question.