Memoir of a spiritual writer and poet who discovered relevance to her life and work in the longforgotten and difficult-to-define concept of acedia.
When Norris (The Virgin of Bennington, 2001, etc.) first encountered the word “acedia” in the writings of a fourth-century monk, Evagrius Ponticus, she instantly recognized it as an apt description of her spiritual malaise. Here she struggles to pin down the meaning, naming its components as apathy, boredom, enervating despair, restlessness and the absence of caring. She also attempts, not entirely satisfactorily, to distinguish this spiritual state from the psychological state of depression, which her husband, fellow poet David Dwyer, experienced. She explores acedia’s etymology and her personal history with it, sharing stories from her childhood, adolescence and long, crisis-plagued marriage. As a teenager, she responded by keeping busy, reading Kierkegaard’s thoughts on despair and writing prodigiously. As a young adult, having lost the religious moorings of her upbringing, she found that John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress awakened in her a renewed sense of conscience. Years later, as she became her husband’s full-time caregiver, acedia, which had never been totally absent from her spiritual life, renewed its grip on her, and with it, a temptation to doubt. Her attraction to monastic prayer and her strong interest in the monastic life—examined in her books Dakota (1993) and The Cloister Walk (1996)—is evident here in the numerous references to the writings of early monks and to conversations with Benedictines at the monastery near her home, where she is an oblate. In the final chapter, “Acedia: A Commonplace Book,” Norris presents dozens of quotations on the subject, demonstrating convincingly that soul weariness has been a persistent and troubling phenomenon throughout recorded history.
Surprisingly frank and moving.