I heard Kathleen Norris talk about “acedia” at the Festival of Faith & Writing. Acedia is an ancient term for a sin which can be defined as apathy, or boredom, or more precisely, “why bother.”
She quoted some very profound writers on the subject. It seems that in the 4th century acedia was a problem in the monasteries, a response to the sameness of monastic life. So a monk named Evagrius (spelling and pronunciation both difficult and possibly wrong here, but I believe you just skip the “E”) discussed acedia in some detail and gave an effective prescription for moving through it. The prescription still sounds effective, though it may not fall lightly on post-modern ears.
Acedia is different from depression, although the conditions can appear the same on the surface. One is a physical illness, the other a spiritual illness. They have different treatments, also. Depression is treated with drugs, acedia with prayer and psalm-reading.
Not too surprising that today we diagnose depression and focus on the pill part. How could a physician diagnose a spiritual illness? If she did — and this is ironic — her diagnosis would sound “New Age-y” to our ears, when, really, it’s “Monastic-y.”
Which leads me to something I wonder about a lot: where is the line between physical illness, spiritual illness, mental illness? If you spend time preaching about healing miracles and the casting out of demons, you just have to think about these things. And if our theology is truly incarnational, we need to wrestle this one down.
Anothing aspect that’s on my mind: It seems to me that the treatment for depression is infinitely easier to dispense than the treatment for acedia. Would you agree that it’s easier to take a pill than to honestly pray. Just like it’s easier to take a vitamin than to exercise. No value judgment on the pill or the vitamin, just an observation.
I find this subject interesting, because I think acedia is rampant now, when our lives seem to be the opposite of monastic. We are overstimulated, surrounded by a surfeit of options. Yet we are plagued with acedia. Why bother indeed.
Kathleen Norris mentioned a book that I’m adding to my “To Read” list: The Philosophy of Boredom, by Lars Svendsen. Have you read it?
Oh, never mind. Who cares.