Got Acedia? Who cares.

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.


2 responses to “Got Acedia? Who cares.”

  1. Richard Avatar

    I came across your blog when I consulted an on-line dictionary on the pronunciation of acedia, and lo, it’s in a discussion of Kathleen Norris, a writer I’ve admired for years. I just received her new book, Acedia and Me. In the first couple of chapters there is much discussion of the writings of anchorites and their struggles with acedia. That was laborious reading, but now I’ve reached the point where what she says starts to hit home . . . her personal struggles with the worm acedia How that sheds light on my struggles with it. Get your hands on the book!

  2. Julaan Avatar

    I’ve been an admirer of Norris for several years; she did not disappoint. I think she hit at the core of much of what ails our country. Can’t wait till her book comes out.

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