Monasteries of the Heart

Monks in Our Midst: Kathleen Norris on acedia and spiritual apathy today

In this past year of pandemic, many have returned to an ancient monastic concept: acedia. As described in National Catholic Reporter in April 2020: “For the ancient monks, acedia was defined as a sense of restlessness, spiritual unease and an urge to escape the harsh routines of monastic life. It was considered a deadly sin, numbing those who succumb to it to access to God's love and the fruits of the spiritual life.” 

Kathleen Norris, Benedictine Oblate and author of the book Acedia & Me, recently gave a talk on acedia to the Being Benedictine online community. While spiritual apathy and restlessness continues to challenge us today, she suggests there is no cure, but there is a response: 

“There is no cure for acedia, any more than for anger or pride. They’re part of the human condition. But we can learn to recognize these ‘bad thoughts’ and resist them when they come. A method recommended by Evagrius in the fourth century, and touted today as the latest in cognitive behavioral therapy is to ‘think about your thoughts.’ When anger, greed, pride or acedia rise in us we can examine the thought dispassionately and try to figure out what it is tempting us to do. There is no blame attached to having a ‘bad thought,’ because they come to everyone. But we do have some choice in how we respond to them. The early monastics knew that in rejecting anger, we embrace compassion. In rejecting pride, we come to a realistic understanding of our humble place in the universe. In rejecting acedia, we choose to care. We choose to love.” 

Watch her 15-minute talk on acedia with Being Benedictine here.  
Read an article version of her talk here.


Questions for reflection: 

  • Does the idea of acedia resonate with you? How have you countered or treated your own experiences of spiritual apathy?
  • It has been just about a year of pandemic-imposed isolation or separation. If you could give advice to your past-self, from one year ago, what would you say? 


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