WHAT’S THE USE
Kathleen Norris writes about Acedia and Me. Acedia feeds upon the thought that nothing is worthwhile. Ecclesiastes gives expression to such thoughts. “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. . . What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” (1:2 & 9) If we stay there, we can lose all energy to continue to move.
Norris points out that acedia was considered by the early desert monks as one of the deadliest of thoughts. Acedia is one of the “8 bad thoughts” that would eventually be compressed into “7 deadly sins.” Apparently, according to Norris, Acedia and Sloth were combined into the sin of sloth, but she suggests that was a mistake. Acedia can be roughly translated into a form of apathy, although it is a lot more complex than that. It is that condition in which you have lost any passion, positive or negative, to care about life.
WE ARE NOT ALONE
The importance of Ecclesiastes giving expression to such thoughts is that it reminds us that we are not alone in wrestling with despair. Such thoughts are a normal part of life’s journey. It may even help to allow “the preacher” to give expression to how you are feeling.
Fortunately, there are other voices to which we can also pay attention. The Psalms are also an important gift for us. As John Calvin expresses it, the Psalms are an anatomy of the human soul. Here is expressed almost every feeling that the human soul can experience. The psalms give expression to the continuum from lament to unrestrained praise.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION
In struggling with acedia, give yourself permission, even when you don’t feel like it, to allow the psalms to feed you. Open to the psalms and read and reflect on a few verses at random. Don’t insist that they make sense in the moment. And don’t search for answers. Simply read a couple of verses and let them be planted in your thoughts. When you find another sliver of time, do it again.
One of the destructive thoughts that feeds acedia is that you are alone in having such feelings. Over time, when you repeatedly read the psalm as a form of prayer, you become aware that there is more to life than you have concluded. There is movement in life and life is addressed from beyond your experience. Such is the beginning of moving beyond acedia.
In the more familiar passage from Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” The apathy that you are experiencing is real but it is only one phase of your life.