I don't know how many of you are prone to accidie, or acedia. I am. It is the bad thought of the monastic life, and other than leaving my family and becoming a monk, there is no place more monastic than being a stay-at-home parent (especially those of us who are relatively homebound). Accidie is not quite apathy. It is not quite sloth, though the two are related. Accidie, how I experience it, is a kind of weariness. It's something other than depression that is caused by real, physical changes within our bodies and the chemistry of our brains, but the two are interrelated. I have been sick for over a month now - nothing serious, just a persistent cough that often leaves me with a headache. It's physically wearisome and spiritually as well. After an extended illness (last year it was headaches that ate up at least one half of January), I begin pondering death - not suicide, but death. I wonder whether "This is the big one!" (a la Fred Sanford) and I listen to stories of this one or that one who died around my age. I feel hopeless and purposeless and weary. It is the edge of despair; it is the erosion of trust.
And then I buy a book on the sayings of the Desert Fathers and as I am browsing through the index, the word accidie jumps out at me. I'm familiar with it. I've written about it. I know that it is a bad thought that I am prone to and I realize that I have succumbed once again to this demon of weariness. Let me share a story told by Amma Theodora about accidie, or acedia:
"It is good to live in peace, for the wise man practices perpetual prayer. It is truly a great thing for a virgin or a monk to live in peace, especially for the younger ones. However, you should realize that as soon as you intend to live in peace, at once evil comes and weighs down your soul through accidie, faintheartedness, and evil thoughts. It also attacks your body through sickness, debility, weakening of the knees, and all the members. It dissipates the strength of soul and body, so that one believes one is ill and no longer able to pray.
But if we are vigilant, all these temptations fall away. There was, in fact a monk who was seized by cold and fever every time he began to pray, and he suffered from headaches, too. In this condition, he said to himself, 'I am ill, and near to death; so now I will get up before I die and pray.' By reasoning in this way, he did violence to himself and prayed, When he had finished, the fever abated also. So, by reasoning in this way, the brother resisted, and prayed and was able to conquer his thoughts."
It sounds so morbid, but it resonated so clearly within me: Well, if I'm about to die, I had better start praying. And then one does violence to him or herself in prayer and, through the suffering, resists the bad thought of accidie.
Pray always. And sometimes, pray for me.