Acedia – What is it?

I’ve been ploughing through Kathleen Norris’ excellent book on Acedia recently and over the next week or so I want to put up some quotes and reflections from my time in the book. Mainly so I can remember them in the years to come. They fit in well with the backdrop of the guest post I wrote for Tanya over at Thorns and Gold this week. It was a post that got me thinking about what term I am comfortable using for the darkness that envelopes my soul at times. I shy away from calling it full blown depression, it’s not clinical depression although at times it can verge on that. It’s more of a melancholic disposition. I’m concerned about ascribing something I think affects many of us on this earth with a label. I think lots of us experience the draining apathy of acedia and it’s time we talked about it.  I think it’s a fairly normal part of our lives as Christians not a label for a few but a state that many of us find ourselves in on a regular basis.  That’s why I think it’s helpful to have it laid out bare for all to see.

Here are a few definitions for us:

acedia:
1.the deadly sin of sloth
2.spiritual torpor and apathy
(Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, 1976)

acedia:
a mental syndrome, the chief features of which are listlessness, carelessness, apathy and melancholia.
(Online Medical Dictionary, 2000)

Monks knew about it:

“The demon of acedia- also called the noonday demon- is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all… first of all he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and as if the day is fifty hours long… then too he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself, a hatred for manual labor. He leads him to reflect that charity has departed from among the brethren, that there is no-one to give encouragement.  This demon drives him along to desire other sites where he can more easily procure life’s necessities, more readily find work and make a real success of himself… He depicts life stretching out for a long period of time, and brings before the mind’s eye the toil of the ascetic struggle and, as the saying has it, leaves no leaf unturned to induce the monk to forsake the cell and drop out of the fight.  No other demon follows close on the heals of this one (when he is defeated) but only a state of deep peace and inexpressible joy rise out of this struggle.” (Evagrius Ponticus)

There is a fight on in our souls against this demon. It’s not a fight to become a happy positive person, it’s a fight for hope, reality and meaning in the midst of these times, it’s a fight to see the sun again.  It’s a fight for vitality and devotion against the torpor of despair and apathy. That’s where the hope lies.

More to follow on the effects of acedia and the path to some kind of recovery each time it strikes.

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One Response to Acedia – What is it?

  1. Mia says:

    Dear Kath
    Thank you so much for sharing this. At the moment I think I am suffering from a full blown case of acedia! This is the second week I have been struggling with a bad case of flu and since I am also suffering from Fm/ ME, I can easily become despondent and am in need of so much grace from the one moment to the next. Thank you for your honesty in sharing your own battle with this foe. It gives me so much hope to carry on, trusting our Lord together with all my sisters in Jesus. Blessings

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