spiritual lethargy and us

BOOK_AcediaOut of the many books I’ve read of late, Kathleen Norris’ text entitled Acedia & me has helped to idenify and clarify for me something we all struggle with at one time or another.  Acedia, as defined by standard dictionaries is apathy, boredom, topor or what the monastics refered to as ‘the noonday demon.’  At its greek root, the word acedia means the absence of care. The person afflicted with it refuses to or is incapable of caring. Originally listed as ‘sloth’ [number 7 of the deadliest sins], acedia is more than just laziness. It is a spiritual apathy that can overshadow our lives. Norris suggests it rests at the core of much of our restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia, and enervating despair. Could acedia be the malady that plagues Christians today and keeps us from full and passionate living?
If you’ve ever struggled with a sense of spiritual lethargy, I endorse this book. Norris takes a close historical, biblical, scientific, practical and personal look at the issue.
FYI – this is not an easy read per se in that it takes some time to consider and absorb what Norris is writing. It is, however, worth the effort. She openly shares her joys, disappointments, and suffering in life and how acedia seeks to effect them all.  Her story will resonate deeply with our common human experiences. When her husband became terminally ill, Norris writes how during the last year of his life her most ‘spiritual’ activity was cleaning out his urinals and commodes. Here is an excerpt from Norris’ thoughts on grace…

The comedy of grace is that it often comes to us as loss, sorrow, and foul-smelling waste; if it came as gain, gladness, and sweetly scented flowers, we would not be grateful. We would, as we are wont to do, take personal credit for the unwarranted gifts of God. It is easy to be attracted to the idea of grace—which one dictionary defines as ‘divine love and protection bestowed freely on people’ – but much harder to recognize this grace when it comes as pain and unwelcome change. In the depths of our confusion and anger, we ask: ‘How can this be God’s love? Where is God in this disaster?’ For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us to places where we didn’t want to go. As we stumble through the crazily altered landscape of our lives, we find that God is enjoying our attention as never before. And maybe that’s the point. It is a divine comedy.

2 Responses to “spiritual lethargy and us”

  1. 1 Karen
    July 30, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Thanks! This sounds like a seriously good read. I was introduced (reintroduced?) to the concept of “acedia” reading on my journey to Orthodoxy. It one of the many vices addressed in St. John Climacus famours work, “The Ladder,” a classic also well worth the read. St. John, a 7th (8th?) century monk, has a profound familiarity with the inner contours and struggles of the soul on its journey to transformation into the likeness of Christ (or not!).

  2. 2 Karen
    September 5, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    I’m just dropping by to thank you again for this review! I am in the middle of reading Norris’ book and finding much there to nurture my soul and prime me to get back into the battle against those vices that wage war against the soul. She articulates a profoundly Orthodox mindset of the nature of our spiritual task in this life–but this is not surprising, drawing as she does upon the wealth of wisdom from the early Christian monastics, which has remained now for more than 1,500 years at the heart of Orthodox Christian spirituality. Orthodox monks still practice monasticism in this fairly primitive fashion to this day (though they also make some use of modern technology (such as email and web sites). For the past few decades, there has been a revivial of traditional Orthodox monasticism going on, on Mt. Athos (which has been an Orthodox monastic republic for some 1,000 years in Greece) and even here in the U.S.. Contemporary “Abbas” and “Ammas” continue to be formed in this way, and there are some very challenging and edifying materials becoming more available in English with the accounts of the lives and sayings of these contemporary Elders, whose sayings and lives reflect the same deep and disciplined immersion in the Scriptures and the same Spirit and practical wisdom as those of their predecessors, and which ultimately echo that Beloved Voice many of us have come to know and love from the Gospels. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Glory be to God for all things!

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re: the random-ness

Husband. Father. Senior Pastor of Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, IL.

Ok...so you've located the place where I put down my random thoughts. The key word here is random: music, sports, art, food, books, news, spiritual musings, weird stories, etc. I'm especially interested in how everyday experiences of life intersect with the ancient stories of Scripture. Thanks for reading.
July 2009
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Thoughts gone by

"No problem can withstand the assault of substantial thinking." Voltaire



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