Acedia and Me: A Mental Health Perspective

The first year I was on disability, I found it difficult to get out of bed. Before I conceived of writing this book of meditations, I didn’t know what to do with myself. We lived on a seven-and-a-half acre homestead and there was plenty to do, but I seem to be pathologically allergic to real work.

While at the library one day, I picked up a book by poet and spiritual essayist Kathleen Norris called Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. Norris is a wonderful writer, and there is much to be said for the book, but my purpose here is to briefly unpack what she reveals about the elusive yet pervasive condition known as “acedia.”

Exploring early monastic literature, Norris discovers that before there were seven deadly sins, there were actually eight vices, one of which is the difficult-to-define acedia. Norris describes it this way:

“The demon of acedia—also called the noonday demon—is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all. . . He makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and . . . he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself.”

Norris is careful to distinguish spiritual acedia from clinical depression. She is not suggesting psychological disorders are the result of demonic spirit.

“The boundaries between depression and acedia are notoriously fluid; at the risk of oversimplifying, 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.”

Not everyone who battles acedia has a psychological disorder. But, many with psychological disorders must battle acedia. To engage in this spiritual warfare, we need the full armor of God—Bible study, daily prayer, weekly worship, and faithful fellowship.

Like An Unquiet Mind, Acedia and Me is the story of one woman’s encounter with spiritual dis-ease. It is more descriptive than prescriptive, but as the demon is detailed, we become better aware of who our enemy is so we can better prepare to win the war.

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