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Acedia-Take 3

September 20, 2012

Don’t worry, y’all.  This is in fact my last downer acedia post—at least for now.  I had intended to just let acedia be for awhile, but I couldn’t.  It’s one of those things that just kinda works itself into my brain and hangs out there, until I finally do something about it.

From the first ten chapters of Kathleen Norris’s Acedia and Me:  A Marriage, Monk’s Life, and a Writer’s Life, one chapter is devoted to talking about another symptom of acedia.  This, to me, is the most dangerous part of suffering from acedia–or that question of wondering if everything is meaningless (thus, why do anything?).  A direct symptom of acedia is apathy.  Not only do I suffer from apathy towards the aspects of my own life on those days I struggle, but I suffer from apathy to all.  Norris, suggests, that as a whole, our North American, democratic, free-society culture suffers from a cultural acedia.  I agree with her whole-heartedly.  Norris quotes Methodist preacher, Fred Craddock as saying:

The ability to look at a starving child…with a swollen stomach and say, ‘Well, that’s not my kid.’…Or to see an old man sitting alone among the pigeons in the park and say, ‘Well….that’s not my dad.’  It is that the capacity of the human spirit to look out upon the world and everything God made and say, I don’t care.

While trying to avoid making political statements, it appears that’s what we have done.  Childhood hunger is at an all time high.  Our Sunday School class prepares bags of food to give families at a local elementary school over Winter break so the children who depend on the school’s lunch (and breakfast and dinner programs) have a meal to eat every day while school is closed.  That’s just in my community.  Acedia is watching the news with disconnect.  Haiti is impoverished because of corrupt government and the choices the people have made.  People in our country don’t have enough food to eat, access to preventative medical care, or a place to live because they are lazy, mentally ill or make poor choices.  We’ve gotten so good at deciding it is some one else’s jobs to fix the problems–be it government, individuals, church’s, or non-profits.  Or we decide that the homeless veteran who suffers from mental illness due to giving to our country doesn’t deserve help because he is flawed.  We say children should pay for the sins of their parents.  Send the children whose parents brought them to the states illegally as small children back to Mexico, even though those children are culturally more American than Mexican.  It’s not our problem, we tell ourselves.  We’ve worked hard, we’ve been responsible with our money, we pay our taxes.  That’s enough.  Right?

That’s acedia.  It’s not my problem and I don’t care.  I can easily watch the news—violence in the middle east, poverty in Haiti, job numbers and reports on child hunger without weeping.  How can I do that?

Surely, that’s a slap in the face of God.  It’s in direct conflict with everything in the Bible–the Old Testament which talks about years of jubilee where debts are forgiven, land is returned, and which values highly care for the widow, poor, and children.  If we look at the words of Jesus, the conflict is even greater, especially the oft quoted section of Matthew which talks about “Whatever we do for the least of these, we do for Jesus.”  The work of acedia, the greatest danger in acedia is thinking that we don’t matter enough and can’t effect the world around us.    Acedia tricks me into thinking that someone else will take care of things, surely, I can’t be held responsible.  I have other important things to deal with, like worrying about which famous people are divorcing or whether Jennifer Aniston will in fact ever have children.

One thing I am thankful for every week that I meet with my dear women is one of the questions I have to answer:  “How have you been the hands and feet of Jesus this week?”  I know, all week long, that come Tuesday evening, I need to be accountable to others about how I have helped others.  Some weeks, that’s my main motivation for looking beyond myself or my little family.  I dread the weeks I hesitate and say,  “Hmmm….I don’t know.”  Those are the weeks I have fallen prey to acedia again.

My other reading for the day (in addition to my daily liturgy and another a book I just started) is by Joan Chittister.  It’s an interesting book, The Monastery of the Heart.    She takes St. Benedict’s rule, set up for the Benedictine monks and used for 1500 years, and puts it into poetry, as a method for encouraging others to follow Benedict’s rule.  Chittister herself is a Benedictine nun, which is also Kathleen Norris’s  monastic order affiliation.  I am not surprised to see the two books being heavily related, even though Norris focuses solely on acedia and Chittister doesn’t address acedia by name at all.   I ended my daily reading with these words:

It [Benedictine spirituality] is built on the trust

that each of us

will lay our lives down for the other,

as Jesus did,

and count everything we do

as the privilege of participating

in the co-creation

of the world.

For that we pray daily,

“O God, come to my assistance,

O God, make haste to help me.”

Knowing that we, too,

are at least part

of everyone else’s answer

to that prayer.

More than anything, that is way I fight acedia.  “Knowing that I am at least a part of everyone else’s answer to that prayer”, is reason to pray for strength and for God’s grace.  It is why I ask for forgiveness.  It is what I am called to do, as a beloved child of God.

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