I’ve been reading Acedia by Kathleen Norris, a book about slothboth 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.