Acedia and Me, too

I’ve been reading Acedia by Kathleen Norris, a book about sloth—both words so seldom used the computer software underlines them in red, as if each is a misspelling of some valid word.  Called the Noonday Demon by the Desert Fathers, our having no word for it doesn’t mean it does not beset us, and particularly solitary people like writers. Norris says it feels like depression, but is not depression.  Depression is marked by a desire we have no power to act upon, whereas acedia/sloth is when we have the power to act but feel no desire to do so.  It is desirelessness, acedia, and may take such forms as losing oneself for hours in activities of no merit such as staring at television.  Norris describes spending days consuming utterly forgettable novels, the mental equivalent of potato chips, books that have no potential to enlighten, edify, or feed her own work, let alone her soul. 

            Here’s what Cassian of Marseilles, one of the Desert Fathers quoted by Norris, has to say about acedia:


Our sixth contending is with that which the Greeks call Accidie, and which we may describe as tedium or perturbation of heart.  It is akin to dejection and especially felt by wandering monks and solitaries, a persistent and obnoxious enemy to such as dwell in the desert, disturbing the monk especially about midday, like a fever mounting at a regular time . . .  And so some of the Fathers declare it to be the demon of noontide which is spoken of in the XCth Psalm. 


When this besieges the unhappy mind, it begets aversion from the place, boredom with one’s cell, and scorn and contempt for one’s brethren, whether they be dwelling with one or some way off, as careless and unspiritually minded persons.  Also, toward any work that may be done within the enclosure of own lair, we become listless and inert.  It will not suffer us to stay in our cell, or to attend to our reading:  we lament that in all this while, living in the same spot, we have made no progress, we sigh and complain that bereft of sympathetic fellowship we have no spiritual fruit; and bewail ourselves as empty of all spiritual profit, abiding vacant and useless in this place; and we that could guide others and be of value to multitudes have edified no man, enriched no man with our precept and example.


Sound familiar?

About Nancy Pinard

Professionally-speaking, Nancy Pinard is an author-educator who spends her days writing, teaching, reading, and researching for her writing and teaching. She is the author of two published novels, Shadow Dancing and Butterfly Soup, and numerous short stories. She has taught the craft of fiction writing in many venues including Sinclair Community College, University of Dayton Life-Long Learning Institute, Antioch Writers' Workshop, Mad Anthony Writers' Workshop, and Molasses Pond Writers' Workshop. Personally, her faith is what sustains, inspires, and motivates her to continue to explore meaning through literature. "You are right in demanding that an artist approach his work consciously, but you are confusing two concepts: the solution of a problem and the correct formulation of a problem. Only the second is required of the artist." — Anton Chekov to Alexei Suvorin, October 27, 1888
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4 Responses to Acedia and Me, too

  1. Vincenzina Krymow says:

    While I’m not physically in the desert, I can really relate to what the Desert Fathers were experiencing. And so I don’t get things done and then bemoan that….
    However, when I first read the book some years ago, just knowing that I was not depressed and that others, even the Desert Fathers, suffered from this, somehow made it OK.

  2. Vickie says:

    I’ve never thought of sloth in this way. Interesting.

  3. Sandy says:

    I was very interested in hearing about this state of mind, as I’d never heard of it before.

  4. Cyndi says:

    Oh, my…there’s a name for that awful state of mind?! I thought I was just going crazy (-ier).

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