"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

20 June 2009

Kathleen Norris: Acedia and Me

I am reading Kathleen Norris's Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life. It is convicting and comforting, challenging and calming. I will be writing more on it when I have read further and understand better some of the distinctions she draws between acedia (one of the seven deadly sins -- sloth, or ennui: weariness in well-doing) and depression (the clinical condition). It is one of those books in which the non-underlined portions will, I fear, be less than the underlined and commented on; in other words, I'll just have to re-read the entire thing again and again, instead of selected passages. Which may be just as well.

The final chapter is a commonplace book of quotations on her subject, and I was struck by this one as I browsed it this evening:

"When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by accidie [acedia] and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, 'Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone, what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?' A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, 'Do this and you will be saved.' At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved."

Reminds me of my life's mantra: Do the next thing. Then do the next thing.
And at some point you will find that you are living again, not perhaps knowing quite when or how it happened.


Stephen said...

Thanks, Dr. Impson. A refreshingly different outlook than Baudelaire's, and a timely reminder of the Christian response to ennui.

alaiyo said...

Yes, Baudelaire describes the condition excellently, but seems to wallow in it as something not just inevitable but impossible to overcome. And though he seems to despise it, doesn't he also seem to glory in it in a perverse way? Norris gives a good history of how Romanticism began this trend of upholding the feelings of acedia/depression as vital to the artist's ability to do his art, and the destructiveness of that response.

eutychus said...

I've been dealing with depression lately a condition that, in hindsight, I've dealt with for years but just "gutted out." Recently I hesitantly mentioned it to my wife and then my doctor. I will be posting about it soon but when I went on the meds, I found two very interesting results. First, I actually had a greater desire to write (actually the desire has always been there but I was just unable to bring myself to do it) and second, I was able to put away a lifelong struggle with unhealthy, lustful desire. The change has been truely amazing.

alaiyo said...

Eutychus -- good news!

Cindy said...

Argh! A new Kathleen Norris book, and you DIDN'T TELL ME?!?!

Norris is among the few authors who has the (perhaps questionable) distinction of having likely saved my life with her writing. I'm so glad she has another book; they're incredibly worthwhile works.

alaiyo said...

LuCindy: It's Norris -- I thought you knew! But to be fair, I only got it around spring break time and just began reading it this past week.

I know you have bought a house and are moving and preparing for fall and all that stuff -- but do seriously put this book at the top of your list. It's truly excellent, as we have come to expect from her.

I would love to hear your take on it -- I'm only half-way through and I still am feeling that she could do more to distinguish between acedia and depression (one of her early promises), but maybe that will come clearer as I keep reading.

I am going to see if either Touchstone or Christendom Review will take a review of it from me.

eutychus said...

Sorry to go off topic but I wanted to tell you that I got "Ancestral Shadows" last night as a belated Father's Day gift. Woohoo!

alaiyo said...

No problem, Eutychus! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

eutychus said...

alaiyo- another off topic. I actually went on Facebook (who'd of thunk) and was wondering are you at Bryan?

alaiyo said...

Eutychus -- You found me! I sent you a message and a friend request at FB.