Monday, 4 May 2015
Acedia and Me 2
A while ago I wrote about my reflections on the book, Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris. As I noted it is often thought of as depression. It is rather hard to get a definitive handle on just what the condition—or vice—entails and how it differs from depression. The simplest way of thinking about it appears to be a state of generally not caring about the world and others.
One of the points in Norris’s exploration of this state is her connection with early Christian understanding of the state of being be pursued by the demon of acedia. Indeed considering acedia in the realm of demons or evil spirits has some validity if we consider the world of the early monks who were very familiar with acedia as the demon of mid-day which brings lethargy. The idea of demons and evil spirits are viewed as rather quaint concepts today and not worthy of consideration in our post Enlightenment, Post-Modern world. Liberal theologians will dismiss or explain the biblical accounts of Jesus’s encounters and defeats of demons and evil spirits as psychological conditions with Jesus as the first century therapist at best and fabrications by fanatical followers at worst. However, I have been reconsidering how we might consider demons in today’s world as a result of Norris’s book as well as a book by Morton Kelsey, Discernment, A Study in Ecstasy and Evil.
Kelsey, who died in 2001 was a Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University as well as a Spiritual Director, describes discernment as the ability to, “value the importance of a person’s story and to listen to it and reveal to that person the implications that this story has for his or her life”. I believe that this is true in discerning our own lives as well as the lives of others. We need to listen to our inner dialogue and hear what we are saying to ourselves. The dialogue that goes on, often below our conscious awareness, can reveal the negative aspects of our lives. Whether we describe them as demons or evil spirits or sloth or put them in modern psychological terms they have a significant influence in our lives.
Since reading Acedia & Me, I have been paying particular attention to the thoughts which could be described as the demon of Acedia. The thoughts that tell me, “You don’t really want to do that do you?” “That will take too much effort and doesn’t matter anyway.” “You’ve done enough and have earned some mindless activity” (even when I haven’t). And so on. In this context these “demons” do indeed exist and can lead me to not caring and there being a lack of meaning in my life if I let the thoughts take over. The effect is the same whether we think of them as demons or ennui or any depression or any other label in the latest version of the DSM. In effect, they separate me from God and in that way are sinful – another term which has fallen out of favour but is still as much of a reality as when Jesus walked among us. Fortunately through Jesus we have forgiveness and redemption.