Friday, May 15, 2009

Acedia & Me

I'm currently reading an excellent book by Kathleen Norris titled, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life. It's, at times, like looking into a mirror. And while I've always thought I'm susceptible to depression - a classic melancholy - I think acedia is the demon that I struggle with in my life: a spiritual deadness or sloth or uncaring rather than a physical malady. (Not that it's necessarily either-or.) A blogger friend, Penni, turned me on to Norris by sending me a little book of hers called The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work," which I highly recommend. It deals at some length with the idea of acedia as well and has been a tremendous help as I daily struggle with my own "women's work." She infuses day-to-day work - laundry, dishes, cleaning, and diapers - with her Benedictine sensibility and discovers the sacred rhythm, the liturgy, of such work.

Something I've discovered, and seems confirmed by Norris, is that discipline is discipline, regardless if it's spiritual or physical or mental. In many disciplines, you begin in a garden, but eventually all find you in the desert. And that is the "noonday demon" of acedia. Perhaps the prayers you say seem less meaningful or the exercise you're doing is showing fewer results, acedia wishes to kill the peace and good in your life and to strip away this discipline that is so necessary for you. You begin to wonder whether it's really worth it or if you're simply wasting your time, or a fool. What was as sweet as honey has become a mouthful of sand. This is the time when it is needful to continue. Salvation lies forward, on the other side, not backward. This is the time to pray and sing through the aridity, even when each word seems empty and every note sounds flat. This is the time for waiting; eventually the desert will bloom.

(My one minor criticism of Acedia & Me is that Norris sometimes indulges in her love of etymology. Of course, I'm a sucker for words and their uses and origins as well, but I wonder if some of these purposeful divergences into the meanings of words and the application thereof could have been done in a manner that is less interruptive.)


Owen said...

Haven't read Norris in a few years. I'll have to check this title out - hoping my library carries it. Peace Scott.

Dan said...

This makes me think of Theresa and her dry spells...your drys spells are a sign that God's transforming you into a saint, brother Scott. I'll pray for you.

kkollwitz said...

"the sacred rhythm, the liturgy, of such work."
I learned this by changing diapers. The dirty kind.

Scott Lyons said...

Owen, if my library carries it, then yours has got to. : )

Dan, I wasn't clear - not dryness here, as Blessed Teresa's inability to feel God's presence in spite of her perseverance and love and joy, but the vice, the "bad thought," of acedia, related to sloth and apathy and ennui and restlessness. Not that I want to not care, but that stability is a hard, lonely fight, albeit a necessary one. Acedia is said to be the demon that plagues monastics, and I suppose I live a kind of hermitic life here in my domestic church: the unchanging everyday chores, the feeling of isolation from all that is "someplace else," and the general rigor of solitude. Prayer and psalmody is the answer - and work. Ora et labora. Pray and work.

That being said, He wants all of us to be saints, doesn't he? I'm thankful for your prayers - pray that I will spend less time impeding God's grace working in me. And that I will desire to live a quiet life, to mind my own affairs, and to work with my hands.

Christian, I hear you, brother.