Acedia is an ancient term for a sin which can be defined as apathy, or boredom, or more precisely, “why bother.”
I heard Kathleen Norris talk about acedia at the Festival of Faith & Writing. She quoted some very profound writers on the subject. Acedia was a big problem in monasteries in the 4th century, a response to the sameness of monastic life. So a monk named Evagrius discussed acedia in some detail and gave an effective prescription for moving through it. The prescription still sounds effective, though it may not fall lightly on post-modern ears: prayer and psalm-reading.
Although the conditions can appear the same on the surface, acedia is different from depression. One is a physical illness, the other a spiritual illness. Not too surprising that today we diagnose the physical illness and focus on treatment with pills. How could a physician possibly diagnose a spiritual illness? If she did — and this is ironic — her diagnosis would sound “New Age-y” to our ears, when, really, it’s “Monastic-y.”
The treatment for depression is infinitely easier to dispense than the treatment for acedia. It’s easier to take a pill than to honestly pray. Just like it’s easier to take a vitamin than to exercise. I’m not making a value judgment on the pill or the vitamin, just an observation.
I find this subject interesting, because acedia seems to be rampant now, when our lives are the opposite of monastic. We are overstimulated, surrounded by a surfeit of options. Yet we are plagued with acedia. Why bother indeed.
I love to escape to a monastery for a long space of silence, now and then. During a time of pandemic stay-at-home, that may seem a strange need.
Kathleen Norris mentioned a book that I’m adding to my “To Read” list: The Philosophy of Boredom, by Lars Svendsen. Have you read it?
Oh, never mind. Who cares.