Acedia & Me
A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life
Riverhead Books, $25.95, 352 pp.
If the word “monks” wedged into the title above sets off a warning bell for you, I am sympathetic. You too may be tired of the endless number of “spirituality” books that repackage friendly bits of monastic wisdom and hospitality (sometimes even recipes) for busy people. Even the ancient discipline of lectio divina seems to have come in for a new wave of popularization. “You read with a candle next to you,” one participant in a local L.D. workshop recently explained to me. A book-with-candle combo package can’t be far behind.
But then, my world-weary dismissiveness may stem not from the candles but from acedia, a monastic spiritual affliction which, says Kathleen Norris, is highly contagious outside the monastery as well: “a slackness of the mind,” according to the early monk John Climacus, “and a hostility to vows taken.” If you think that doesn’t describe you, cast your thoughts for a moment over all the irksome daily obligations you’re tired of, and the relentlessly imperfect people in your family, your parish, and the church generally. Acedia makes us unhappy with the mundane, the routine, the disappointingly human, and, perhaps especially, with the daily slog of finding some way to pray. It attracts us with the always appealing idea that surely we deserve to be any place but where we’ve ended up.
A long book about monastic restlessness might seem like it...