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Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life

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Kathleen Norris had written several books, yet she couldn’t drag herself out of bed in the morning, couldn’t summon the energy for daily tasks. Even as she struggled, Norris recognized her familiar battle with acedia. She had discovered the word in an early Church text when she was in her thirties. Having endured times of deep soul-weariness since she was a teenager, she immediately recognized that this passage described her affliction: sinking into a state of being unable to care. Fascinated by this “noonday demon,” so familiar to those in the early and medieval Church, Norris read intensively and knew she must restore this forgotten but utterly relevant and important concept to the modern world’s vernacular.

Like Norris’s The Cloister Walk, Acedia & me is part memoir and part meditation. As in her Amazing Grace, here Norris explicates and demystifies a spiritual concept, exploring acedia through the geography of her life as a writer; her marriage and the challenges of commitment in the midst of grave illness; and her keen interest in the monastic tradition. Unlike her earlier books, this one features a poignant narrative throughout of Norris’s and her husband’s bouts with acedia and its clinical cousin, depression. Moreover, her analysis of acedia reveals its burden not just on individuals but on whole societies— and that the “restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia, and enervating despair that we struggle with today are the ancient demon of acedia in modern dress.”

334 pages, Hardcover

First published September 16, 2008

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About the author

Kathleen Norris

91 books402 followers
Kathleen Norris was born on July 27, 1947 in Washington, D.C. She grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as on her maternal grandparents’ farm in Lemmon, South Dakota.

Her sheltered upbringing left her unprepared for the world she encountered when she began attending Bennington College in Vermont. At first shocked by the unconventionality surrounding her, Norris took refuge in poetry.

After she graduated in 1969, she moved to New York City where she joined the arts scene, associated with members of the avant-garde movement including Andy Warhol, and worked for the American Academy of Poets.

In 1974, her grandmother died leaving Norris the family farm in South Dakota, and she and her future husband, the poet David Dwyer, decided to temporarily relocate there until arrangements to rent or sell the property could be made. Instead, they ended up remaining in South Dakota for the next 25 years.

Soon after moving to the rural prairie, Norris developed a relationship with the nearby Benedictine abbey, which led to her eventually becoming an oblate.

In 2000, Norris and her husband traded their farmhouse on the Great Plains for a condo in Honolulu, Hawaii, so that Norris could help care for her aging parents after her husband’s own failing health no longer permitted him to travel. Her father died in 2002, and her husband died the following year in 2003.

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Profile Image for Cindy Rollins.
Author 20 books1,949 followers
July 30, 2018
Since so many people are reading this now I thought I would pull my old blog reviews out of storage and place it here.

Post 1

Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life

Dante's Inferno Canto 7

Once we were grim
And sullen in the sweet air above, that took
A further gladness from the play of the sun;
Inside us, we bore acedia's dismal smoke.
We have this black mire now to be sullen in.

I have never read Kathleen Norris before and I am pretty sure I would not have enjoyed reading her in the past but people change and circumstances change and I found myself very much needing this book and very happy that I providentially picked it up while browsing the shelves at the library.

The subtitle of the book is A Marriage, Monks and a Writer's Life, which makes this book a memoir but also a description of a little acknowledged sin.

Acedie could be called the absence of caring that might come on the heels of great personal changes. Norris says, "But the word transition cannot convey my struggle with the rigors of grief, a residual exhaustion from years of steadily increasing adversity, and the promptings of acedia to respond to all of this by not caring."

In spite of our very different lives, Kathleen and I seem to share a temperament. She finds solace in metaphor and the Psalms just like me. Perhaps acedie is the unique sin of the overly passionate. I cannot help but think of the line from Yeats "The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Acedie is where passion meets no conviction at all, a thunderstorm of faith.

I have faced this malady several times in my own life. The first time it took me quite by surprise. After facing melanoma with surprising faith and hope, I spent the year after the battle feeling as if nothing mattered at all. My own cure came from the parable of the talents in the Gospel of Matthew. Acedie is the buried talent, a sort of hyper-Calvinism. Since I know God is big and I am small what's the use of trying. If this sounds a bit ridiculous to you, then you probably will not enjoy Kathleen's book.

My second bout with this sin was when my oldest son joined the Navy. I had spent 19 years raising him with passion and purpose never once seeing the Navy as the end goal. The fact that I was not in control of the outcome of my children's lives was a revelation and a serious setback in my own passion and purposefulness. I think homeschooling moms are generally full of passionate conviction which may make them vulnerable to the sin of acedie.

Over the course of the last year and a half, acedie has loomed large in my life. While my faith in Christ has never wavered my understanding of the church and tradition has suffered. I have felt the sting of realizing that Christians talk too much and do too much and care too little. This has left me teetering on the edge of bitterness. And for someone who already knows all the 'right' answers that is a dangerous place. Acedia and Me has been a foothold on my way back to normalcy.

Physically the breakdown in my immune system has caused me to get mono, a disease that has a unique effect on the spleen. It is interesting to note that the spleen is metaphorically the 'get up and go' of the body. Acedie is the breakdown of the spiritual spleen.

Since we are living in tough times, I am guessing that many of you may be rethinking much of what you have always believed in the face of unexpected circumstances. This book may be the spiritual encouragement you need to face the trials that God has set before you.

As I was standing on the side of a hot Tennessee highway last week, two hours from home, with a flat tire and a broken jack, and 2 scared little boys, for a brief second I thought, "This is the last straw, the tiny thing that breaks me," and then I thought of the Proverb that says, "If you faint in the day of adversity, how small is your strength." Well, my strength is incredibly small but the strength available to me in Christ is without measure and there it was growing in my heart on the side of the road. So we just got into the car, prayed and sat and waited and a TN State trooper drove up and showed us how to fix the jack and a few minutes later we were on the road again. And then we got a good meal at a sit down restaurant and then we were safely home.

Post 2 Quotes

Chapter XV in Kathleen Norris's Acedia and Me is a list of commonplace book quotes that Kathleen has collected her whole life.

Kathleen quotes such wide-ranging books as Pierre by Maurice Sendak and even our old friend Leisure: The Basis of Culture.

Here are a few of the quotes that I found most helpful:

GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy "Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening "do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them."

Possibly Paul Tillich "Boredom is rage spread thin."

Fernando Pessoa "Tedium is not the disease o f being bored because there is nothing to do, but the more serious disease of feeling that there's nothing worth doing."

Ian Fleming, From Russia with Love "Just as, at least in one religion, accidie is the first of the cardinal sins, so boredom, and particularly the incredible circumstance of waking up bored, was the only vice Bond utterly condemned."

Claude J Peiffer, OSB Monastic Spirituality "Acedia is a formidable adversary because on purely natural grounds its arguments are unassailable."

Vaclav Havel, Letters to Olga "The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less."

Thomas L Friedman in Singapore and Katrina quoting Janadas Devan of Straits Times "It is not only government that doesn't show up when it is starved of resources and leached of all its meaning. Community doesn't show up either, sacrifice doesn't show up, pulling together doesn't show up, 'we're all in this together' doesn't show up."
289 reviews8 followers
November 2, 2009
Norris says in the introduction to this book that she's been working on it for a long, long time, gathering materials, reading, and writing. I suspect that what she was waiting for - consciously or intuitively - was an organizing structure. She never found it.

"Acedia & Me" is full of lots of wisdom and reflection on the spiritual problem of depression/apathy/boredom/distraction, as well as a smattering of wonderful quotes and stories from church literature that has been largely forgotten by the church, and stories about her husband's illnesses, and her own battles with depression (etc.) and quotes from modern authors about society's ills, and... anything else that managed to fall into her file marked "Acedia" over the years.

The problem is that it's barely organized at all. And at 327 pages, it's an awful lot of unorganized notes and thoughts. Some things repeat almost verbatim; often variations on the same theme are twenty pages apart. It gets kind of hard to keep plugging through after the first hundred pages or so; while new stuff does turn up now and then, maintaining a sense of progression through the book is almost impossible.

There is an awful lot of great stuff here. Norris has diagnosed a problem in society and written some excellent words of insight and reflection about it.

Too bad she never found that organizing structure.
Profile Image for Tim.
589 reviews
October 6, 2012
After digesting this book for a couple weeks, I realize the analogy is that like the Slow Food movement, this book is meant to be read slowly, in small doses, and savored inbetween. The title, for that matter, gives no real clue as to what it contains - especially the word, Acedia.

So what does it mean? Acedia - a tendency, a demonic attack, a spiritual manifestation, a temptation, a sin, that tends to cause apathy in the face of a call to action, bitterness in the face of conditions that call for thankfulness, a withdrawal when the person or others need connection, boredom instead of appreciation for a routine, etc, etc. The author, Kathleen Norris, seems to spend half of the book circling the term, describing what it is not, what is similar, how the early church monastics viewed and dealt with it, and how today's psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and pharmacologists have touched upon it. She circles, describes, retreats, then returns.

If the tracing of this phenomenon was the only theme of the book, I would have lost interest, but Norris weaves her search and reflections with much more practical aspects of her life of writing and all its challenges, and an even more personal reflection on her marriage, commitment, and grace given through its many decades. Her relationship with her husband becomes poignant as he eventually dies from illness after a number of health crises. Her insights through his slow decline, complete with the ups and downs of gratefulness and depression are rich and demanding. And she ties in life's trials and our responses with the challenge of acedia.

The book is dogeared in so many places (a book that really should be read again) but two examples give a flavor. Pg 42, "... in nurturing a marriage over the span of 30 years, and in keeping to the discipline of writing and revising for even longer, I have often found myself watering dead wood with tears, and very little hope. I have also been astonished by how those tears have allowed life to emerge out of what had seemed dead." Page 245, referring to Oregon poet Stafford, "Writing is like fishing, Stafford would say. A nibble will always come, but all too often we dismiss the little nudge as not worthy of the great works we vaingloriously imagine we will write. In a similar way we block our spiritual progress. The message of salvation that begins as a whisper is easily missed in the noise of passions such as envy, pride, anger, and acedia."
Profile Image for Kate.
318 reviews
January 26, 2009
Reread pp 1-80

"David enjoyed a passage I had found in Louise Bogan's memoirs, in which she writes of seeing out the window of a psychiatric ward, a woman hanging clothes and of 'wishing that I, too, could . . . hang out clothes in a happy, normal way.' When she walked with other patients at 'the hour when children begin to scent supper,' she observed an air of despondency came over the group. The women 'knew the hour in their bones. It was no hour to be out, taking an aimless walk'" (81).

"I am so glad that the therapists of my maturity and the saints of my childhood agree on one thing" (Bogan, 81).

"'Stand up, take your mat and walk'? What kind of answer is that? To a sick person, a depressed person, that is precisely what is not possible. And don't try to say, as Jesus does, that it's my faith that makes me well. That's just plain discouraging if I take it to mean, as far too many have, that my lack of faith keeps me ill. Surely we can drop that particular bludgeon from our theological arsenal" (83).

"This gives hope that there is a faith for those of us who, like Miss Dickinson, may 'believe, and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour, which keeps Believing nimble'" (83).

"Evagrius speaks of the vital importance of recognizing and distinguishing between the different types of bad thoughts, and warns that we must 'take note of the circumstances of their coming . . . which are the more vexations, which yield . . . more readily and which [are:] the more resistant?' The reason for this careful self-observation, Evagrius says, is that we need 'effective words against them, that is to say, those words which correctly characterize the [demon:] present. And we must do this before they drive us out of our own state of mind'" (89).

"To help monks struggle against the 'bad thoughts,' Evagrius compiled and extensive Antirrheticus, a list of Scripture passages appropriate to resist each temptation" (89).

"Were I to approach an abba or an amma asking for a 'word' to help me cope with the assaults of acedia on my soul, I would likely be reminded that if I am especially susceptible to acedia, it is because I harbor within myself the virtue of zeal" (96).

"My energy levels are set on high or low: I can happily juggle any number of activities or do very little. . . . Over the years I have learned to live with the flow. And that is part of the problem . . . .Hasidic rabbi Hanokh said, 'The real exile of Israel in Egypt was that they had learned to endure it'" (96-98).

" . . . those afflicted with depression are often ambivalent about it, as no one is ambivalent about physical illness" (Joyce Carol Oates, 98).

" . . . many people are conflicted about a state in which the ploys they've used to color things in their favor are stripped away, and they sense that they are witnessing the world as it is. The light may be harsher than we would like, but at least it forces us to see" (98).

"From his extensive research, Andrew Solomon reports evidence that depressed people have a more realistic view of the world than others . . . . For all of that, Solomon reminds us that 'major depression is far too stern a teacher: you needn't go to the Sahara to avoid frosbite" (98).

"[Solomon:] cannot help respecting that which gave him knowledge of 'my own acreage, the full extent of my soul' . . . . When he asserts that 'the opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality,' he is echoing the existential monastic view that the opposite of acedia is an energetic devotion. When I'm at my worst, mired in torpor and despair, simply recalling this can give me hope" (99).

"Acedia is a particularly savage enemy, because it is not content with just a part of us. Evagrius writes that 'the other demons are like the rising or setting sun in that they are found in only a part of the soul. The noonday demon, however is accustomed to embrace the entire soul and oppress the spirit'" (99-100).

"Often my first act of recovery is doing something as menial as dusting a bookshelf or balancing my checkbook. If I am tempted to devalue such humble activities, I remember that acedia descended on Anthony as soon as he went to the desert, but when he prayed to be delivered from it, he was shown that any physical task, done in the right spirit, could free him" (100).

"What heals acedia is staunch persistence . . . . Decide upon a set amount for yourself in every work and do not turn aside from it before you complete it" (100).

"I remained prone to acedia, to what the early monk John Climacus termed "a slackness of the mind . . . [and:] a hostility to vows taken'" (102).

"Constantly drawing on my capacity for zeal meant that I could ignore the tendency to acedia that remained dormant within me. I could put off giving the devil his due" (102).

" . . . I noticed that David was in poor spirits, and asked whether he would like me to stay with him that night. He replied, quietly, 'That would be nice.' His tone signaled to me inwardly he was shouting, 'Don't leave me alone!'" (109).

"Acedia, which is known to foster excessive self-justification, as well as a casual yet implacable judgmentalism toward others, readily lends itself to [instant indignation and denunciation:]" (115).

"Anger over injustice may inflame us, but that's a double-edged sword. If our indignation feels too good, it will attach to our arrogance and pride and leave us ranting in a void. And if develop full-blown acedia, we won't even care about that" (116-117).

" . . . a great heart is needed against acedia, lest it swallow up the soul" (Chaucer, 116).

"'What everyone does not believe in, as nearly as I can tell, is forgiveness'. It requires creativity to recognize our faults, and to discern virtues in those we would rather disdain. Forgiveness demands close attention, flexibility, and stringent self-assessment . . . " (Kiezer, 117).

" . . . recall the literal meaning of the third commandment, against blasphemy. In Hebrew, it is an admonition against offering nothingness to God" (126).

" . . . inadequate thought and speech always translate into inadequate action" (Alasdair MacIntyre, 126).

"In a series of talks in the 1960s, Thomas Merton foresaw our contemporary world as one-dimensional, a world in which 'all words have become alike . . . To say "God is love,"' he commented, 'is like saying, "Eat Wheaties" . . . . There's no difference, except . . . that people know they are supposed to look pious when God is mentioned, but not when cereal is'" (128).

"In this hyped-up world, broadcast and Internet news media have emerged as acedia's perfect vehicles, demanding that we care, all at once, about a suicide bombing, a celebrity divorce, and the latest advance in nanotechnology. . . . But the ceaseless bombardment of image and verbiage makes us impervious to caring" (128-129).

"Acedia has come so far with us that is easily attaches to our hectic and overburdened schedules. We appear to be anything but slothful, yet that is exactly what we are, as we do more and care less, and feel pressured to do still more" (130).

"Wasserstein asks, 'are these hyperscheduled, overactive individuals really creating anything new? Are they guilty of passion in any way? Do they have a new vision for their government? For their community? Or for themselves?" (130-131).

"We might look for guidance to those earlier desert-dwellers, who had no word for depression, but whose vocabulary did include words for accidie, discernment, faith, grace, hope, and mercy./They gave one another good counsel: Perform the humblest of tasks with full attention and no fussing over the whys and wherefores; remember that you are susceptible, at the beginning of any new venture, to being distracted from your purpose by such things as a headache, an intense ill will toward another, a neurotic and potent self-doubt. To dwell in this desert and make it bloom requires that we indulge in neither guilt nor vainglorious fantasizing, but struggle to know ourselves as we are" (132).

". . . there is a grief that comes from the enemy, full of mockery, which some call accidie" (132).

" . . . the early Christian monks, who named zeal the best weapon in the psyche's toolbox for contending with acedia" (134).

"If the early monks paid close attention to themselves, it was only because they knew that rigorous self-analysis was an indispensable spiritual practice. Change was the point of discipline, and they nailed narcissistic self-definition, correctly, as vainglory. To people schooled in religion that has often seemed to define sin as a grocery list of dos and don'ts, these monks can seem . . . 'rather casual about morality.' They were not at all concerned . . . 'that people should behave correctly according to the rules, but rather that people should be able to see their situation clearly for what it is, and so become free from the distorting perspective which underlies all our sins'" (Tugwell, 135).

Profile Image for Melinda.
746 reviews53 followers
September 28, 2014
Sept 2014
After re-reading this book.

I would move this book up to a 4 1/2 star, so am rounding up. Very worthwhile.

July 2010
2010 Review --This is another of Kathleen Norris' books, published in 2008, so the most recent of the books she's written. I read "The Quotidian Mysteries" first, then this book, then her others in random order. The text of "The Quotidian Mysteries" is actually about a chapters worth of material in "Acedia and Me", so you see some of the same material over again.

As I mentioned before, reading Kathleen Norris' books is rather like peeling an onion. She discusses many of the same issues in her books, but from slightly different perspectives. While I have read her other books with interest, "Acedia and Me" is a very sober book that brings many of the issues she has discussed elsewhere into stark focus. The subtitle is "A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer's Life". This is where the onion layers all peel back and we cry with her over the very open and honest journey she takes with her husband that ultimately ends in his death after years and years of illness and depression and discouragement. While she talks of illness and depression in her other books, here she delves deeply into them and studies and examines them in light of the struggles of her own marriage, her husband's illnesses and eventual death, her difficulties in writing, and the struggles of her own search for God's truth.

"Acedia" from the title, is defined by the author as "at its Greek root it means the absence of care. The person afflicted with acedia refuses to care or is incapable of doing so. When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine: you know the pain is there, yet can't rouse yourself to give a damn." Acedia and depression at first sound synonymous, but again the author offers up her distinction, "I would suggest that while depression is an illness treatable by counseling and medication, acedia is a vice that is best countered by spiritual practice and the discipline of prayer."

Kathleen has the temperament that tends toward melancholy and depression. She married a man who also had this personality trait. David, her husband, grew up in a devout Roman Catholic family but became disenchanted with the emotional non-rational faith of his Roman Catholic mother, and left Roman Catholic church to delve into mathematics and rational sciences after his mother's death. A poet with scientific leanings, he also began to bear in his body the results of his depression and melancholy. Kathleen became more interested in her Christian faith as she rediscovered the words and poetry of the Bible. She began pursuing the spiritual practice of the Liturgy of the Hours as practiced by Benedictines. A Presbyterian Christian poet, married to a lapsed Roman Catholic poet, they began years of grindingly difficult cycles of illness / depression / recovery. David was off-put by Kathleen's returning Christian faith, yet he was genuinely thankful for her faith in Christ.

Woven all through this book is the spiritual remedy for Kathleen's spiritual struggle with acedia. It is reading the Bible regularly and aloud, primarily through the practice of the Liturgy of the Hours, and prayer. Her struggles are real and she writes very powerfully about them. Her tenacity to cling to the words of the Bible is also very powerful. The Desert Fathers and Mothers believed the words of the Bible were and are true, and thus they had the power to change you. Kathleen believes this also, and demonstrates that while her remedies do not remove the "thorn in the flesh", they are effective in allowing her to have a marriage she and her husband considered to be a blessing, work that she delighted in, and confidence that she was working towards an eternal goal worth attaining.

I recommend this book. It was encouraging for me to read, not because I read it and 'felt better at the end' because everything ended up so tidily and nice. It was encouraging because life is messy, and life is hard, and while Christ does redeem and save us, we still have to live each day of our lives in often difficult circumstances that do not "clean up well". For her to have fought for so many years with her depression, to have struggled and worked and wept and rejoiced with her husband through all the years of illness and disease, and to come out on the other side and say "I am thankful to God for his blessings", that is true testimony that the remedy of spiritual practice and the discipline of prayer does indeed work.
Profile Image for D.M. Dutcher .
Author 1 book49 followers
January 29, 2012
An erudite, if rambling book that tries to combine the writer's life with meditations on the concept of Acedia. Acedia unfortunately seems to be hard for her to define: it's a habit of mind that combines a sort of fatalistic resentment of things with laziness, and that affects people who are drawn to the monastic life. "I don't want to do anything, and I don't care!"

Mixed in with this are biographical snapshots of her life. Her husbands slow, hidden sink into depression, her life as a young woman, going back to a school union. These are little moments of beauty, because Norris is an elegant, masterful poet. When she concentrates on these, the book shines.

However the bulk of it is wrestling with the "noonday demon," the ghost of Acedia, and it is too transparent to pin down. Even as a concept, as she mentions several times it disappears from usage and from dictionaries as a word. That drags the book down. If it had been a slim biography, it would be fascinating, but unfortunately it feels more like an aimless ramble. Or a wrestling match, trying to use words to banish the demon at her heels. However, I still enjoyed it, and The Cloister Walk is also excellent.
Profile Image for Rosana.
279 reviews58 followers
November 22, 2008
I was disappointed with this book. It was just too uneven of a book, with moments when it really picked up my interest and passages that spoke to my heart, only to fade in a few pages to the repetitious descriptions of acedia. At times I just wanted to scream at her: go back and rewrite it all as essays.

I really wanted to hear more about her experience as a teenager, about marriage, death and spiritual growth. But she insisted on linking it all under the theme of acedia, and too often it felt manufactured. To add more to it, she seemed very intended in using every single reference ever made about acedia over the past 1,500 years. Now, some of the quotations were fitting and very interesting – Dante’s Inferno for instance – but the overabundance thinned their impact.

However, I am still going to give her 3 stars because when I look back at the book, it has so many dog-eared pages and underlined quotes (yes, I do deconsecrate books this way), I have to admit that it did convey many snippets of truth and wisdom. It is too bad that they seemed misplaced though.
Profile Image for Jen.
2,396 reviews41 followers
May 14, 2011
FABULOUS. I'd forgotten how much I'd enjoyed Kathleen Norris before I found this book in a thrift store. Then, it turned out the local library had the audiobook version, with a cd that included a pdf of many of the quotes. This book helped me think through some topics. Here are some of my favorite quotes.

...making your bed is a form of showing hospitatlity to yourself...

physical work is the best way to fight acedia

You struggle with apathy because you have a great capacity for zeal

only worry about fighting it [acedia specifically, but any problem] today and NOT tomorrow also.

a refusal to suffer pain is also a refusal to love. It may be that people were created to care, but that does not mean it comes naturally...caring can seem like weakness. -Kathleen Norris

What is integrity? Abba Poeman replied "Always to accuse oneself." -Kathleen Norris

"It is not sincerity, it is Truth which frees us because it transforms us. It tears us away from our inmost slavery. To seek sincerity above all things is perhaps, at bottom, not to want to be transformed." -Henri de Lubac

Page 130- We appear to be anything but slothful, yet that is exactly what we are, as we do more and care less, and feel pressured to do still more.

We may well ask: If we are always in motion, constantly engaged in self-improvement, and even trying to do good for others, how can we be considered uncaring or slothful? …Wendy Wasserstein-“When you achieve true slothdom, you have no desire for the world to change. True sloths are not revolutionaries, but the lazy guardians at the gate of the status quo…Are these hyperscheduled, overactive individuals really creating anything new? Are they guilty of passion in any way? Do they have a new vision for their government? For their community? Or for themselves?” She suspects that “their purpose is to keep themselves so bus, so entrenched in their active lives, that their spirit reaches a permanent state of lethargiosis.”

Whatever you do repeatedly has the power to shape you, has the power to make you over into a different person- even if you're not totally 'engaged' in every minute.

page 272-While we are tempted to “think sadness is a mood, an emotion,” he told them, in truth it is “a passion which easily leads to sin.” Merton’s admonition that “the causes of our sadness are not to be sought…in other people, but in ourselves” is an essential for surviving in the rock tumbler of relationship, whether one is within a place of business, a monastery, or a marriage. “It takes real courage,” Merton insists, “to recognize that we ourselves are the cause of our own unhappiness.” The trick is to maintain a nuanced view as we attempt to discern what trouble we have caused and are responsible for, and what is truly beyond our control.

….in dishwashing, I approach the moral realm; there are days when it seems a miracle to be able to make dirty things clean.

I may intellectually assent to the notion that such utilitarian chores can open my heart to the world, and appreciate Gerard Manley Hopkins’s observation that “it is not only prayer that gives God glory but work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring….To go to communion worthily gives God great glory, but to take food in thankfulness and temperance gives Him glory too. To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dung fork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give Him glory, too He is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean they should.” …It is all for the glory of God, and how we perform those often dispiriting duties, from the changing of a baby’s diaper to the bathing of an aged parent, reveals what kind of God we worship.
That faith and love operate best through the humble means of boring, everyday occupations is a thoroughly biblical perspective, for its stories repeatedly remind us that God’s attention is fixed on what we regard as unimportant and unworthy. The Scriptures depict God not as a Great Cosmic Cop, eager to catch us in minor transgressions, but as a creator who loves us enough to seek us in the most mundane circumstances of our lives. We are asked to remember that we are refreshed each day like dew-laden grass that is “renewed in the morning” (Psalms 90:5). Or in more personal and also theological terms: “Our inner nature is being renewed every day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). In this light, the apparently ludicrous attention to detail in Leviticus, where God is involved in the minutiae of daily life, right down to cooking and cleaning, might be seen instead as the love of a God who desires to be present to us in everything we do. …”everyday he made a new beginning”...

260-Our Lord tells us to pray for today, and so he prevents us from tormenting ourselves about tomorrow. This is not an easy prayer when I am tempted to give up on both today and tomorrow…
Profile Image for Susan.
12 reviews
February 3, 2009
Oh this latest from K Norris is her best yet, at least to my brain. A little-known-to-the-modern-world wave of thought/behavior called Acedia is its focus. Here Norris has spared no effort, during the book's incubation over the last 20 years, at yanking Acedia out from its sly hiding places in her own life and subjecting it to a lasery investigation. This investigation includes the testimonies of men and women who fled the cities in the early Christian era for the purpose of creating labs out of their own body-minds. What they found was the '8 classic bad thoughts' which, when allowed to fester and grow, can and will derail the basic sanity and goodness in any human being. Turns out Acedia is the slipperiest of 'the usual suspects'.

This one's a keeper for anyone's crucial collection of First-Aid texts; both psychologically sophisticated and eminently practical.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 12 books1,267 followers
January 25, 2010
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

Christian author Kathleen Norris has long been fascinated by the ancient psychological condition known to monks as "acedia," and which was actually one of the original "Seven Deadly Sins" back when they were known at the beginning of Christianity as the "Eight Bad Thoughts." But what exactly is it? Long thought as the pre-Enlightenment version of depression combined with sloth, Norris' book-length analysis of the term (along with a detailed memoir of her personal experience with the subject) shows that it's actually a much more complicated thing, an emotional state that we would do good in our modern secular times to once again start to identify and treat -- a sort of apathy about the world combined with restlessness, which then outwardly manifests itself not only in ways similar to clinical depression, but also with a marked increase of boredom and desire for escapism, and a greater fear than normal of commitment. Although she goes out of her way to assure nervous readers that she doesn't mean for acedia to completely replace modern clinical depression as a concept, she does make a compelling argument for the idea that many modern people are getting misdiagnosed these days as clinically depressed when in fact they're acedic, requiring a whole different treatment than simply mood-altering drugs like those with legitimate chemical imbalances; and ironically, this treatment tends to mirror many of the daily routines of the ancient monks who first identified and battled with this "intellectual's disease," including such activities as contemplation and meditation, regular periods of silence and solitude, and a forced concentration on small daily rituals whether you feel like completing them or not, all of which are not coincidentally missing more and more from most modern lives. It's a dense book but a highly rewarding one, that will have you thinking in a completely different way about mental "illnesses" versus simple "maladjustments," and it comes highly recommended to anyone interested in contemplating issues purely of the mind.

Out of 10: 9.2
Profile Image for Michael Cogdill.
Author 4 books48 followers
December 16, 2009
Naked honesty is becoming. It's a rare and beautiful fashion, suited perfectly to the mind of a writer. Cloaked in this fashion, Acedia and Me may be the finest runway Kathleen Norris ever walks.

Revealing her struggle, and that of her late husband, with the depressive lassitude that can define acedia took enormous courage. A caring kind of mettle that comes from the heart of a writer determined to weave a legacy out of her pain, allowing reader after reader to take its comfort, to warm ourselves in the hope of it.

The religous, the faithful, and the most avowed enemy of religion will find this book a perfect fit. Kathleen Norris has lain herself bare of all the pretense and sermonizing so common in such a genre. In their place, she writes with brilliant aim at our humanity, the strains of getting a marriage to survive the hard living that comes with it, and the wonderment of whether the cosmos has a single eye or ear to know what we people are going through down here.

From this one volume, I have been reminded faith often takes groans and fury as its language. That our suffering can become foil for a shocking joy, rising far above language. If you believe yourself alone in stumbling through this wilderness life with feet of clay and, sometimes, a heart of stone, read this piece of birthday-suit honesty and know what is common to us all: The hurts of living, the hope of an ageless Divine who knows exactly how we feel after all. Thank you, Kathleen Norris, for this whispering reminder that we are not alone. It is as though you've seen behind the thin veil between this life and the next and have written -- hey, all is well, really, no matter the fury of our times. And all will be far more than well.

Here's to life cloaked in garments of living far beyond the worst of ourselves. In this volume, Kathleen, you have helped show us the way.

Profile Image for Karleen Koen.
Author 12 books493 followers
March 8, 2016
A philosophical book I didn't expect to like and be moved by. Acedia, an old sin of despair, is discussed.
694 reviews9 followers
August 16, 2019
This is a challenging, insightful, and thought-provoking book. I found it difficult to read at times, because it is pointed and poignant in its observations, but even with that I found it encouraging and beneficial. The writing is poetically beautiful (not surprising, given that Kathleen Norris is a poet), yet it is straightforward and conversational, down to earth, and practical. I find it refreshing and easy to read, as though I were discussing real and meaningful things with a close friend. I would not say that I agree with the author in all of her points, of course, but I found a great deal of what she writes to be on target and illuminating. I welcome and appreciate her nuanced and balanced treatment of acedia in comparison and contrast to depression, as well as her willingness to acknowledge the benefits and blessings of both clinical, therapeutic, spiritual, and theological care. Her praise of daily prayer and the Psalms is well taken, along with her recognition of the everyday tasks of life in the world within various and sundry callings and stations. She brings to bear church history and the practical wisdom and experience of the monastic tradition, but is also conversant and fluent in a broad swath of literature, including poetry, fiction, philosophy, theology, and more.
Profile Image for Tim.
1,232 reviews
February 28, 2011
The book and its subtitle does a good job of describing its purpose and structure. It is supposed to be centrally about acedia, which Norris defines early on, but muddies throughout the text, adding definitions and details to expand her writing. But the initial definition is "the absence of care." "Acedia is the monk's temptation because, in the demanding life of prayer, it offers the ease of indifference." I especially like and am challenged by Aquinas' comment that acedia is not following the demands of love. It is tied to sloth and Norris examines the slothful in Dante and elsewhere.

Mixed in with her examination of this word and its meaning is memoir, especially of her relationship with her husband and his health struggles and eventual death. As I look back, I am not exactly certain where it ties into acedia and where it does not. I know Norris finds a deep strain of acedia in her life, and that resonates with me. But her memoir of her husband's life and death is about care and only obliquely about spirituality. It, harsh to say, also did not interest me all that much, which might be a fault in me, but I think is more a fault in the writing which felt more withdrawn.

Norris is distant from spiritual practice in this work. She seems constantly dry, absent from worship and prayer, and fills up the pages with many quotes from other sources, including classical mystical and theological texts and modern day monastics. I get that it is about acedia, but it seems to examine the term in a slothful and disengaged way. I would also value the book and the many quotes more if there were any sort of footnotes or bibliography. There are none and for this historian it really is a travesty and greatly reduces the usefulness of the book. She is also mildly dismissive of orthodox Christian thought at times, seemingly writing for some obscure hipster spirituality set (or angry Catholics), and that tired me as it kept happening.

Norris can write beautiful and thoughtful prose and I am glad to have read the book and gained further insight into acedia. But overall this book does not feel unified, is withdrawn and less engaged in actual spiritual practice. Instead Norris relies on the words and experiences of others, which by the end comes to feel more like spiritual tourism than a spiritual life.
11 reviews
June 14, 2019
It was difficult to assign this book to one shelf, or even several shelves, but it was a truly unique and rewarding read. "Acedia" (variously defined as sloth, boredom, apathy, despair, burn-out, the inability to care, etc. etc. etc.) is a temptation frequently encountered by those in monastic life. Norris argues compellingly, however, that acedia is running rampant in our contemporary American culture, disguised as "restless boredom. . . frantic escapism . . . compassion fatigue . . . commitment phobia." Norris's memoir/spiritual meditation is beautifully written and intensely personal as she draws upon the wisdom of the desert fathers in wrestling with this ancient/present day temptation.

This book resonated with me because it names what has been my biggest challenge in leaving a career to be a stay-at-home-mom/housewife. I have experienced acedia at various times over the years in the sheer boredom, tedium, and monotony of housework that never, never, NEVER gets done. I'm surely not the only SAHM who has occasionally compared her four walls to a monastic cell, isolating her from the stimulation of adult conversation and the rewards she once enjoyed in a career. Norris writes acurately about this in her chapter "The Quotidian Mysteries." (Bordeom, she points out, is simply being confronted with "undiluted time," . . . and how hard it is to confront time without entertainment or distraction!) Although I have found contentment and joy in my role by now, I wish that I had had this treasury of wisdom to enlighten and encourage me sooner.

"We want life to have meaning, and want to be fulfilled, and it is hard to accept that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we would like to be." Norris speaks from personal experience. I appreciate her candidly sharing her life-long struggle with acedia in the form of writer's block, depression, her husband's illness, and finally in widowhood. And I am deeply grateful to her for sharing the wisdom that has sustained her through it all.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Carol.
12 reviews4 followers
November 19, 2008
Kathleen Norris has made an auspicious place for herself in spiritual literature, through her explorations with poetry, with place (Dakota), and her extensive time spent in Benedictene monasteries. Her most recent book is a study on acedia, defined as the absence of care. Acedia was one of the "eight bad thoughts" as defined by the desert fathers, and became known as "sloth" when the Catholic church defined seven deadly sins.
Norris acknowledges that this sort of torpor or boredom with repetition was originally an affliction of monasticism; but she tries to bring in into contemporary terms, as deep boredom and uncaring brought about by our disconnected consumer society. She draws heavy comparison and differentiation between this and our understanding of clinical depression, with its wellknown expansion in treatment with medications. The book "Noonday Demon" by Andrew Solomon, is referenced frequently, another great source on the subject.
On the whole, I had a very personal connection with her portrayal of this state of being: an absence of care, spiritual morphine, sadness, an exercise in nostalgia. And I understand the dangers associated with the indulgence of this state. The weakest part was Norris' recommendations on how to avoid or banish acedia. She said her faith was severely shaken as her husband lay dying, and she simply sent those thoughts packing. The desert fathers advised the use of psalmody. Norris advises psalmody and the singing of hymns. I wonder if this is sufficient for the secular versions of acedia.
I very much enjoyed the last chapter, which is a collection of sayings from different writers, monks, etc. Some are fairly obscure, some wellknown. Baudelaire: "Oh, how weary I am, how weary I've been for many years already, of this need to live twenty-four hours every day!"
Profile Image for Andrew.
11 reviews2 followers
February 18, 2014
Kathleen Norris' 'Dakota' captured my attention for a couple of weeks five years ago. It opened my eyes to dynamics that still inform how I see and experience the world today.

When I saw the title and subtitle of this book, I felt I should read it. Norris, in her typical fashion (well-researched, highly personal, filled with grace, and humorous...not a bad combo!), presents a fascinating study on what ancient virtue-ethicists (monks, in this case) called Acedia. She struggles to translate it - it's not quite laziness, and it's not quite depression - though she goes into detail in trying to associate the word with these two modern concepts.

This book both startled and humored me, a hard thing to accomplish simultaneously. And it raised a host of new questions: Could it be that depression is often more comparable to laziness than to cancer? In what sense are morality and psychology describing the same things but with a different telos? What aspects of a person's life journey change through marriage and what aspects stay the same? (I'll stop there, but could easily continue)

Norris draws deeply from the Desert Fathers and weaves their teaching into an extended memoir focused mainly on her experiences with monastic communities in North Dakota, her writing career, and her marriage.

I was disappointed to encounter very little Christology (by which I really mean no Christology) in this book, but perhaps I'm not sophisticated enough a reader to have caught it. Forgive the comment if that is the case. But I'm surprised that Norris did not show how Acedia related to the Desert Fathers' belief in Christ.

All in all, I am thankful to have seen, bought, and read this book.
Profile Image for Emilia P.
1,705 reviews49 followers
February 28, 2009
Well, Ms. Norris.

The not so great: as she admits early on in the book, this is a subject that she wanted to write about for a very long time, and it sort of shows. It's sort of a pulling together of disparate elements from her life interspersed and not that well blended with meditation on the roots and definitions of acedia. And you kind of have to have read some of her other work to get the spiritual mindset she's coming from, which is a little problematic. So -- she doesn't pull it together that well.

The pretty great: The subject it explores is actually quite interesting, if a little hard to describe. She tries to differentiate between the clinical/physical depression that she acknowledges may well need psychiatric and psychotropic treatment, and the spiritual and emotional stupor that it is easy to find oneself amidst the boredom and tediousness of everyday life. I think it is a pretty good point that she makes that yes, sometimes they go together, but there is some stuff that the world cannot help you fix. I definitely recognized some times in my life in her descriptions of acedia, sort of the avoiding of and pulling away from the world, and sort of recognized the things it takes to recover from/overcome it. Mostly recognizing beauty and being good to people and loving the little things.

The a-ok: She talked about the difficulties of marriage and her husband's illness, of being a poet, of living in South Dakota. She was reasonable and kind and serious but not harsh. Which is why I like her. On the other hand, sometimes I wonder if she is just a grumpy dame trying to justify her grumpiness. Which is okay too.
Profile Image for Gina.
41 reviews
September 7, 2009
Exquisite. I was captured by this book, which I picked up to read at just the right moment in my life. I dog-earred at least 100 pages, and underlined more passages than that!

Thank you: to Kathleen Norris for braving the writing process, and to the friend that gifted it to me for an auspicious birthday.
2 reviews
May 13, 2010
I am having an incredibly difficult time getting through this book. It seems befitting that a book about acedia is so incredibly dull and unengaging; perhaps there is a lesson in there. I'm determined to get through it, as starting a book but not finishing it always seems wrong. I'm hoping it will get better.
Profile Image for Cara Meredith.
1,009 reviews22 followers
June 22, 2017
I'm a Kathleen Norris fan, so i'm naturally a little kinder in my review than others - but I've also experienced acedia (and not depression), so her hypothesis of their intersection or lack there of makes sense to me. I love how she puts the pieces of the puzzle together as she writes.
Profile Image for Ali.
26 reviews2 followers
October 7, 2020
Can’t think of a better book to read during a pandemic. Or any time. But I’m always a sucker for KN. She’s just the best.
Profile Image for Heather.
105 reviews10 followers
January 16, 2009
Though almost everyone is familiar with depression, acedia is a much less well known affliction. Mostly a term used in the monastic community, acedia can be described as a type of emotional slothfulness. Everyday tasks become harder and more pointless to perform, and emotions are dulled almost to the point of desensitization. Acedia takes the form of an unsettled boredom that permeates every area of life, be it physical, emotional or social. In her new book, Kathleen Norris examines acedia in all it's mysterious forms, attempting to explain why it is different from depression and some of the ways that it can be dealt with. Interspersed with her reflections on the issue, we become familiar with the religious implications of acedia and get a crash course on the spiritual response to this ponderous problem. In addition, Norris chronicles her life with acedia and her relationship with her husband, who battled physical and mental illness. Part memoir, part reflection, Norris attempts to explain the emotional lassitude that so many suffer from and so few can name. With courage and determination she delves into her psyche and that of the community at large to engage and define a problem that defies drugs, therapy and advice.

In large part this book was theoretical and illusive. Not really recognized by the mental health community, acedia lies merely in the realm of speculation and experience. While the author's attempt to explain and understand this problem was interesting, many people to whom I mentioned the topic "acedia" gave me a blank stare and said they had never heard of it. This included a mental health professional who expressed interest in the book. Though this problem seems to be an unknown entity, Norris gives us a historical frame of reference for this malady and explains why it is no longer recognized in society. She encourages the reader to look at this problem in terms of a spiritual dissonance that can be corrected with reflection and prayer rather than medication and rationalization. As the book went on, though, there were a few things that stuck out. The first was that although an attempt was made for the book to be hopeful, it was not. The picture portrayed was not unlike the myth of Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill for eternity, only to have it roll back down over and over. The author seems to suggest that this affliction is doomed to be suffered over and over again, with different results from each self-administered treatment. Her own battle with this problem, she acknowledges, has been a lifetime struggle that she can never seem to overcome. Another issue that I came across was the implication that only those sufficiently pious would be able to overcome this problem. Many times her solution to acedia was prayer or spiritual reflection. While prayer is something that I do regularly, and does indeed benefit me tremendously, many people do not have the same feeling towards spiritual meditation. This makes her discourse a little alienating. With as many religious ideologies as there are out there, there are many people who don't ascribe to religion at all. To them, this book would be pointless. One can argue that most of those people wouldn't pick up this book, but the good points made in this book should be able to be shared by anyone affected by this problem. I think it is a bit dismissive to only examine one way of dealing with a problem. I am aware that this is the author's show, and it is her prerogative to handle her reflections in any way she would like, but the effect is a bit non-inclusive.

Despite these misgivings, I found that this book had a hypnotic quality to the writing that kept me wanting to explore further and delve deeper. Many of the passages had bits and snippets of prayers wrapped in, and some were moving and beautiful. I found many hidden gems among this book, new ways of looking at things, and reflections and connections that I would have never made without the author's introspective analysis. Her information had a way of winding around itself, coming back to the same points repeatedly, but this was not troublesome. In a way it was like a good speaker highlighting the same points in order to reaffirm their importance and drive home the message. The book was also very informative about the monastic community, its tenants and its values. There is no doubt in my mind that acedia exists, and that there is relief from this problem. I believe that the ability of this author to take a foreign and illusive concept and relate it in a way that everyone will recognize and understand is a great achievement.
14 reviews
August 1, 2022
Lots of thought-provoking ideas and greatly enjoyed the references to desert fathers and other authors work but I struggled to relate to the author’s personal experiences. I found her autobiographical voice unlikeable as it came across to me as having a certain amount of self-importance and self-centeredness, even while describing acts of apparent heroic virtue in caring for her sick husband and others.

It left me wanting to read the books she referenced more than her own writing.
Profile Image for Rose.
Author 12 books17 followers
September 17, 2008
Kathleen Norris is a bestselling author who blends memoir with Christian spirituality. Although books written from a theological perspective aren’t my first choice of reading matter, I have a profound respect for the ages-old wisdom of monks and other religious orders, and wanted to see how their teachings helped Norris, a writer like myself, persevere in her craft and weather life’s harsher moments.

Acedia is one of the seven deadly sins, according to Christian tradition. It manifests itself as mental, physical and spiritual apathy. Norris describes her experience with acedia as a profound soul-weariness that diminishes her energy and creativity and leaves her apathetic toward the religious faith that normally inspires her. She began struggling with acedia as a teenager, and after discovering the name of the malady in an ancient spiritual text, fortified herself with faith-based defences. ‘Acedia & Me’ is her account of how the condition effected her life as a Christian, an author, and a wife to a terminally ill husband.

Taken as a whole, ‘Acedia & Me’ is a profound study of a dangerous spiritual condition whose numbing effect on individuals and entire societies has persisted despite its sporadic public recognition. For me, the memoir sections of the book were the most powerful and provided the clearest understanding of acedia, because they were practical examples of the havoc that the affliction can wreak. But the first three chapters were almost exclusively given over to discussion of spiritual texts and traditions involving acedia, and as previously stated, I rarely read theological works, so it was difficult going until I reached Chapter Four.

Fans of Kathleen Norris’s other books, which were probably written in the same vein, should love this newest release. Even a Norris neophyte like me was impressed by her obvious gift for memoir. But for me, the sections that read like intricate sermons made ‘Acedia & Me’ an arduous read at times. Therefore I accord it four stars instead of five, while acknowledging that this book is a worthy contribution to Christian memoir.
Profile Image for Skylar Burris.
Author 21 books225 followers
August 30, 2012
I lost this book when I was almost done with it, but I’m going to go ahead and review it anyway, under the assumption that the last thirty pages is not likely to change my evaluation. Acedia & Me is part textbook, part spiritual autobiography, part poetic reflection, part theology, and part socio-economic political musing. As a spiritual autobiography and poetic reflection, it offered much to think about and prodded my spirit to self-examination. I felt like I could relate to a good portion of the book as someone who reads and writes poetry, is maintaining a long-term marriage, and who has wrestled with acedia in one or more of its forms.

“Acedia” is a word defined in excruciating detail in this book, and yet somehow still loosely defined…it’s a nebulous term for Kathleen Norris, shifting from page to page. It’s not quite sloth, not quite ennui, not quite melancholia, not quite depression, not quite despair…it’s all of those things and none of those things. “Acedia” was the worst of the “eight bad thoughts” for the desert monks, the “eight bad thoughts” that eventually morphed into the “seven deadly sins,” when the spiritual became more practical.

Why monks and marriage in the subtitle? Norris describes marriage as a kind of asceticism, which is an interesting, and I don’t think inaccurate, way to look at it. Marriage, like the monastic life, requires discipline and self-sacrifice and the giving up of things, repetition and routine, a liturgy of the everyday, and, as in the monastic life, acedia is a major threat to marriage.

Acedia & Me may have received a five-star rating from me but for the fact that it’s disorganized. It’s as if Kathleen Norris just threw out her thoughts as she happened to have them, and there’s a lot of circling around and back to the same concepts, sometimes even in the same words, which caused the book to drag at times. You get at most of the same truths in The Quotidian Mysteries. Something between the length of the Quotidian Mysteries and this book would have been ideal. I also could have done without the occasional political pontifications.
Profile Image for Beth666ann.
192 reviews3 followers
November 18, 2008
This is a very thoughtful, interesting book about the monastic concept of acedia, which is akin to spiritual sloth or laziness and has obvious connections to what we call depression today. Thoughout the book, Norris discusses her struggles in marriage; in pursuing the often-solitary career of a writer (as a freelancer who also must set her own deadlines, I can relate to this); and with her relationship to religion. Throughout she works through the differences between acedia and depression and the way that she fights acedia in her own life. There are many great insights about the importance and value of everyday life, of repetition: these everyday acts (self-maintenance stuff) are often the first things to slip from my life when I get depressed, and it's fascinating to think about the struggle to engage in them as having spiritual resonance. Indeed, I hadn't thought of the act of being religious as a struggle; hadn't thought religious people sometimes had to struggle to believe--and Norris does a lovely job of sketching out these conflicts as she has experienced them. It gave me much more respect for people of faith. If she is a bit preachy about antidepressants or cranky about therapy and pop psychology, I nonetheless understand where she is coming from, even though antidepressants and therapy have been key in my own life. Most affecting in this book is her narration of the death of her husband and the wave of despair/acedia she faces following it. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by Norris herself: she has a lovely, distant "poetry reading" style when she reads it, which made me enjoy the book all the more. I really think this is a thoughtful, worthwhile book.
Profile Image for Bruce.
Author 1 book21 followers
July 16, 2013
This Kathleen Norris book could well become a classic for researchers of depression and acedia. It is very thoroughly researched and is written in exacting prose, reminding me very much of works by Marilynne Robinson.

A few quotes:
"A friend, a professor of philosophy, observes that many depressives accurately perceive that they are living under conditions in which any reasonable person might be despondent. But, she asks with her customary acuity, can the same be said of acedia? Can it ever be considered a rational response to the vagaries of life? From the perspective of Christian theology, the answer would be no, for acedia is understood as the rejection of a divine and entirely good gift. Because we are made in God’s image, in fleeing from a relationship with a loving God, we are also running from being our most authentic selves. Even from a secular point of view, we can see that acedia is intrinsically deadly, whereas depression may not be."

"A crucial distinction between depression and acedia is that the former implies a certain level of anguish over one’s condition, while in the latter it remains a matter of indifference. But it is an unearned indifference to the vagaries of experience and emotion, because one hasn’t really endured them. Acedia will always take the path of least resistance and attempt to go around, rather than through, the demands that life makes of us."

"Here Dante ties anger, which entails caring too much about the wrong things, to acedia, which is caring too little about the right ones."

"In my grief I have encountered the full blast of what Evelyn Waugh called the “malice of Sloth,” which “lies not merely in the neglect of duty (though that can be a symptom of it) but in the refusal of joy.”
Profile Image for Levka.
14 reviews5 followers
May 16, 2009
The heart of "Acedia and Me" lies in a quote 3/4ths of the way through the book: "A refusal to suffer pain is a refusal to feel love". Part memoir, part history, part theology, Acedia and Me is Kathleen Norris' exploration of a powerful dark force in her life, one of the monastic 8 bad thoughts, the "noonday demon" that kills joy and disengages people from the world. It's also a moving testimony to the love of her life, her late husband David, and to the power of goodness, grace, and love to save us from loneliness, darkness, and fear.

I've loved Norris' writing since "The Cloister Walk", and she remains with this book one of my favorite writers. At times, Acedia and Me is a difficult book to read -- Norris' writing seems so transparent, so honest, that it is tempting to not let her inside where her prose turns over forgotten stones and stirs up old memories. But if you slow down and read the book the way it deserves to be read -- one page at a time -- she is really a very rewarding author, exploring on the one hand the academic, literary, and theological, while simultaneously examining the humane, the common, the spiritual.

After having read "The Cloister Walk", "Dakota" and "The Virgin of Bennington", I suspect the book that I identified most with was this one. Acedia, despair, existential anxiety, has sucked the life out of me many days. But I take courage from Martin Luther's admonition that Norris quotes with such gusto: "To Hell with death and dying! You will live and you will like it!" In many ways, this book seems to epitomize that phrase -- to the darkness, Norris says, "to hell with you! I will live" and proceeds to tell us how such a thing is possible.
Profile Image for Jane.
Author 10 books804 followers
March 3, 2017
I never knew what acedia was until I picked up this book. It means something like sloth, ennui, what the French called "le spleen anglais" in the 19th century; a weariness of life and of everything and everyone. According to Kathleen Norris in Acedia & Me, acedia was recognized as one of the deadly sins in the Middle Ages, but unless you're a student of monastic disciplines you probably don't know that. She is, and was able through her studies to identify herself as a frequent victim of acedia.

This book is part memoir, part scholarly study of the subject of acedia, and part reflection on a writing career and spiritual journey. It moves in a somewhat circular way from one subject to another and back again, rather than taking a linear approach, although the memoir is more or less in chronological order.

I found many things to like in this book. The first two thirds, in particular, were very nicely written and thought-provoking, and I enjoyed reading the excerpts from Norris's source materials in the last section. The final third of the book seemed to drag a bit, though, and appeared to go back over some of the earlier material.

Acedia & Me is not too heavy on what Norris calls "God talk", so it's accessible to non-Christian readers in my opinion. The writing is direct and easy to read, considering the complexity of the subject-matter, and Norris's personal illustrations are very helpful. I would recommend this for readers who have a general interest in spirituality and spiritual health. In the end I felt I was left without answers, but with a greater appreciation of the questions.

This book might be worth a re-read, so I'll give it the "excellent" label.
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