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Acedia–Take 1

September 3, 2012

Within the past couple of years I came across a word I could identify with immensely.  This happens from time to time.  A lot of the times the word has roots in Greek.  I remember distinctly learning about kairos (fluid, non-flexible time.  Time that I imagine God moves within)  time versus chronos (think chronological) time.  Kairos changed my thoughts.  I didn’t know there was word out there that so adequately described that moment when I sat outside, by a mountain creek, and time seemed to stand still.  On one hand, I couldn’t imagine time was passing, on the other it was easy to imagine years going be in those 15 minutes I sat listening.

I hung onto kairos for years.  I attempt to live in the now as much as possible, trying not to limit myself to chronological time, the past and the to do lists and anticipations of tomorrow.  Now and then I would come across a new word, here and there.  However, none really stuck with me like kairos did.  At least not until I read Kathleen Norris a year or so ago.  A good part of Kathleen Norris’s little book, The Quotidian Mysteries:  Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work” talked about the struggle with acedia.  Acedia according to Norris via the the fourth century writer Evagrius is the the bad thought which

makes it seem that the sun hardly moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long.  Then [it] constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hours [i.e., lunchtime].

I know that.  Isn’t that what occurs those days when 5:00 rolls around and I find myself gazing out of the laundry room window to the street, hoping my husband might come early or a neighbor may just stop by.  When I read that a year ago, a found myself nodding my head in agreement, yes, acedia and I are old, old friends.  At times I’ve wondered if I’ve been depressed, however after hearing the word the definition of acedia, I know it’s not depression that has accompanied me, but it’s first cousin, acedia.

Fast forward over a year.  On a whim, for isn’t that sometimes how the Spirit works, I picked up In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan Richardson.  I opened to where I had left off in that book, again around year ago.  I found myself in the company of some of my favorite saints, the desert mothers or ammas.  All of a sudden, a book I had set aside because it had seemed irrelevant gained a great amount of relevance.  The desert mothers left their communities and literally went to live in the deserts of Egypt, some close to others, others very isolated from anyone.  They lived their lives in the wilderness.  Their wisdom is incredible and some stories are humorous.  In all accounts, they are very human, not that much unlike myself in their struggles.

There it was, on day 22 of my month with the desert ammas, acedia once again.  Richardson quotes Roberta Bondi from Bondi’s book, To Love as God Loves:

Acedia is a restless boredom that makes our ordinary tasks to dull to bear…..Nothing seems right; life has lost its savor and it all seems somebody else’s fault, so that the only alternative is to leave everything and go off somewhere else.

We often try to find meaning in life in things that do not give ultimate meaning:  work, marriage, friendships, hobbies, material possessions…All of these things are good and important, but they are not ultimate.  Of course we cannot find our deepest self in them.  We are not made that way.  Only God, finally can satisfy our bored and restless hearts so that we are able to love.

Yep.  That’s what has accompanied me for almost as long as I can remember.  This last school year I’ve particularly wandered about, bored and restless.  I thought with all three kids in school—one in elementary full time and two in part time preschool—my life would be so much more fulfilled.  Instead, I felt paralyzed a lot of the time, at loss for what to do next now that I had the chance to decide.

It’s amazing what naming a problem can do.  Once I realized exactly what I was dealing with, it was much easier to deal with.  I learned that sometimes spending more time sitting in prayer, reading, and thinking could actually work against me.  Sometimes too much of a good thing can be paralyzing.  With God’s help, I was able to find sustenance.  When acedia came to visit in late afternoon, which is when she likes to show up around here, I know that it’s time to pick up the vacuum, to tackle something with immediate results instead of becoming overwhelmed by everything I could do.

I came back to Richardson’s blessing early in my month with desert ammas several times throughout the month, looking for it, as I confronted my acedia and trusted that God would see my through this.

When the well goes dry, listen

Sit by it, your ear pressed to its rim

Hear the empty and the hollow of it

Let be.  Let be.

When finally you hear your breath

echo back to you.

let this sound be your first prayer.

Where there is breath,

there is water somewhere.


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