Meeting Acedia Before It’s Too Late

I’m tired. Or at least I think I’m tired. It’s been a full on year, which tells me something – that I probably haven’t found the right balance of work, prayer and community in my abbey (read my family at my house for this Modern Monk). But that’s another story…

Right now I am thinking about the fact that I only think I am tired. In other words, I’m not sure if I’m tired. I feel all the symptoms, but sleep doesn’t seem to remedy the problem. Perhaps I’m not getting enough, or maybe there is something else in the mix…

Today, I finished Kathleen Norris’ brilliant memoir, The Cloister Walk. I highly recommend it (again though, that’s another story). As usual, the publisher had a page upon which some more of Norris’ book titles are printed to, I suppose, take advantage of the euphoria of the reader and get them to buy another title. (This is by no means a criticism of Ms Norris who I hope keeps writing so she needs to be paid somehow; and who unlikely had the option to say “no” to the idea of promoting her other titles). One of those titles caught my eye:


Recently, I was a leader in our schools character development programme, The Journey, which is run with Yr 10 students every year. In that programme, acedia was a topic that came up in discussion about sloth. They are close cousins, the programme suggested; and in some ways this is true. But I’m not convinced that acedia and sloth are the same.

The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church defines acedia as “a state of restlessness and inability either to work or to pray”. In the blurb about Norris’ book, it suggests another term for acedia is “soul-weariness”.

While I’m not quite in the place of being unable to work or pray, I can identify with the idea of being restless and soul-weary. In fact, just seeing that compound word – “soul-weariness” – in that blurb made me feel as if a yoke had been taken off my shoulders; that there was in fact a term to define how I have been feeling for a few weeks now. Acedia gives me an end point for the “symptoms” I feel, and now I can work on trying to avoid it.

Desert Father, John Cassian, believed that the road for a monk out of acedia began with a rededication to their monastic vows. From there, his advice is to:
- work with their hands and to be present to their work;
- avoid getting carried away in memories and thinking and daydreaming;
- avoid too much sleep;
- avoid running away from ordinary routines;
- create a rhythm for ordinary work and ordinary prayer and spiritual practices and to stick to it.

It’s Cassian’s last point that hit me. The busyness and taking on some extra tasks has thrown out any schedule and rhythm to the work of prayer in my life. I’m beginning to see that it is the overwhelming feeling of keeping up coupled with the lack of Divine intimacy through prayer and Spiritual Disciplines that has made me feel the way I do.

And so, for the third or fourth time since The Modern Monk Project began, I re-dedicate myself to the (modern)monastic profession to living the Christian life with the road illuminated by the Rule of St Benedict. And rather than feeling negative about that figure, I instead feel a sense of reality about it – that the Christian life is not about perfection but about authenticity.

Besides, I am real enough to know that this rededication, as the previous 2 or three, is by no means likely to be my last…

Cheers & Peace,
Br Mark G
~ aka The Modern Monk

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