Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Acedia: Are we bovvered?

Why is everything crap? Why is life itself so damn boring? As we travel on life’s great highway, the cry goes up ‘Are we there, yet?’ Then Maggi Dawn’s blog tips me off about Kathleen Norrris’ fabulous new book on Acedia. This was the old Desert Fathers’ Noonday Demon. The best monks sometimes wasted days in the sun, clockwatching and bored, when they should have been getting on with the job. Call it Sloth if you like, but Ms Norris points out that in our century its most common form is the blue-arse-fly version, our own particular way of being there whilst not being there. Acedia kills off deep thought, relationships, religion and all kinds of other worthwhile activities that involve completer finishing. It kindles impatience, frustration, and superficiality. Get down on the street, and everybody’s doing it. In a great review of this book, Denis Ockholm writes:
We urgently need such reminders amid the “restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia, and enervating despair” of contemporary life, particularly in the context of a marriage such as the one that unfolds in this book. In a society where acedia results in relationships that are recycled more often than aluminum cans, Norris insists that what is most likely to maintain a marriage is not giddy romance but discipline, martyrdom, and obedience (which, at its etymological root, refers to hearing): “The very nature of marriage means saying yes before you know what it will cost. You may say the 'I do' of the wedding ritual in all sincerity, but it is the testing of that vow over time that makes you married.” Good advice in a culture where that "five-o'clock somewhere" mirage always beckons.
This all points us to the ancient wisdom of our holy father Benedict, whose Rule was not conceived as legalism on speed, but a toolbox for sticking with discipleship through the dead zone, so that it can bear real fruit. Confronting the futility of our own lives, we can wallow ’n bitch, or engage the mid-day demon more closely, and grow a few better habits to promote stability...
Stop Press: Comment by Prodigal Kiwi (Paul Fromont)

2 comments:

Steve said...

That's what I love about my contemplative faith, it allows me to understand the reason to keep on through the dry and dull areas of life and await the fruit at the end of it all. i have found the example and teaching from Thomas Merton to be a great resource.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Funny you shouod say this, Steve. I've been reading Merton's diaries recently as a kind of spiritual vitamin supplement! There's something special about the acuteness of his vision about what was really going on in various seasons of his life, against such a consistent backdrop of stability.

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