Acedia & Me

Acedia & Me

A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer's Life

Book - 2008
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Kathleen Norris's masterpiece: a personal and moving memoir that resurrects the ancient term acedia, or soul-weariness, and brilliantly explores its relevancy to the modern individual and culture.
Publisher: New York :, Riverhead Books,, 2008.
ISBN: 9781594489969
Branch Call Number: 818.5403 N856N
Characteristics: 334 pages ; 24 cm
Alternative Title: Acedia and me


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JCLChrisK Apr 27, 2020

Though the term acedia is not a familiar one, it's experience most likely is. Acedia is the name early Christian monks gave to the deep spiritual apathy they would feel facing a life of simple, sheltered sameness. It is related to, though not quite the same as, depression. "Acedia contains within itself so many concepts," Norris writes: "weariness, despair, ennui, boredom, restlessness, impasse, futility." Consider this description she quotes from fourth-century monk Evagrius of a listless monk who:

"when he reads . . . yawns plenty and easily falls into sleep. He rubs his eyes and stretches his arms. His eyes wander from the book. He stares at the wall and then goes back to reading for a little. He then wastes his time hanging on to the end of words, counts the pages, ascertains how the book is made, finds fault with the writing and the design. Finally he just shuts his eyes and uses it as a pillow. Then he falls into a sleep not too deep, because hunger wakes his soul up and he begins to concern himself with that."

Familiar? That is acedia at its mildest. A more powerful experience is from an eight-century monk:

"Once when I was sitting silently in my cell, that accursed demon of acedia rose up against me and refused to let me celebrate the office both night and day. I lay on the ground for a week under the massive weight pressing down upon me, in such a way that the remembrance of God could no longer well up within my heart. . . . Being stuck all this time in this distressing situation, I began to despair of my life, saying to myself: 'It would be better for me to leave for the world rather than to wear the monastic habit; I am doing nothing at all, save being lazy and thinking vain things.'"

Norris quotes from these monks because she sees herself in their descriptions. In studying acedia extensively she has found understanding for her lifelong struggle against it. In this book she ponders it at length. Its history and many complex dimensions, its repeated appearances in her life and marriage, and the forms she sees it taking in contemporary society. The book is part memoir, history, philosophy, religious meditation, and more. It is fascinating, moving, eye-opening, and provoking. And most worthy of lengthy rumination.


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