Kathleen Norris’ Book, Acedia & Me
One traveler journeying down this spiritual road responds to another traveler, me, in a strange place called…
Acedia, accidie… you may never have heard the word, but I’m positive you’ve experienced it. From the Greek akedos it described those who didn’t care enough to bury the dead on the battlefield; their defeat drained them of zeal and passion. Acedia prompts dangerous lethargy, stubborn sadness, world weariness, restless boredom, and cynicism. It is morphine to our spirits, squelching joy from life. Even God is no longer viewed as good.
It’s an irony that there is so much creative energy bursting forth around acedia, often defined as sloth, torpor and lassitude. In the fall, 2008, two of us published books exploring acedia. On the day I returned from England, having lectured on acedia (accidie) at the British Psychological Association, Kathleen Norris presented an evening lecture on her latest book, Acedia & Me, at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. It took Norris 20 years to produce her book on acedia; it took me 30 years to publish mine. I wanted to hear her wisdom on the subject, but transatlantic exhaustion won—my ticket was never redeemed; it is my bookmark in her book.
Norris, the poet, has brilliantly crafted an accidic lair. She weaves a web with strands from her marriage, her writing journey, and her pilgrimage as a Benedictine Oblate. So poetically has she crafted this lair that I felt acedia’s tentacles tightening around my soul long before my mind grasped this elusive concept, known only by the astute through the ages. So elusive is acedia that it pervades our current culture but is seldom identified by name.Slogging through Norris’s accidic web, I was sucked back into its clutches:
I felt bored, tediously bored.
I felt lethargic, tepid, like warm milk at midday.
I wanted to escape the confining and cramped cell of this book.
I enviously wanted to be elsewhere reading an exciting book.
I felt cynical—angry, even bitter.
“This book is drudgery—too much work—I don’t want to care about this book and this subject! Norris doesn’t want a relationship with me—she doesn’t care about me—I don’t care either.”
Norris is a seductress. Damn her! I wanted to abandon and ban this book… but no—I read it, many sections more than once. It was like looking at my own soul’s journey from the bottom side of the toilet seat. And then, she suggests I read the Psalms—meditatively—to heal my soul.
Are you a traveler who understands the language we are speaking here? Such are the strange twists in the journey of acedia, one of the seven deadly sins of classical Christianity and also one of Ian Fleming’s deadlier sins of our own era portrayed in both James Bond and his adversaries in the 007 tales.
CAUTION! Norris’ book is only for the serious soul pilgrim.
CAUTION! To read Norris’ book requires extreme patience and persistence. Countless paragraphs I read twice or more. Don’t miss the last chapter—a 43-page compendium of quotes on acedia from authors down through the ages.
To be read often—with humble patience and disciplined persistence. Such is our journey, isn’t it?