Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life
by Kathleen Norris
352 pp., $25.95 (hardcover)
Kathleen Norris has accomplished the impossible again. Who else but this much-loved author, poet, and Benedictine oblate could resurrect a Latin word from its oak-gall-ink-and-vellum grave? And why should we care about acedia, a word with no direct translation in English? Centuries before Pink Floyd sang the haunting, "I have become comfortably numb," the earliest monks experienced this debilitating apathy. Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life (4 stars) chronicles Norris's own struggle with soul-killing tedium, starting at 15, when she first asked, "Why bother?"
Norris tells us how acedia accompanied her into adulthood, and how it became a part of her marriage. But for years her "inner devastation" had no name. In her 30s, she discovered Evagrius Ponticus in a dusty monastery library, and the writings of this fourth-century Christian monk identified acedia as "the noonday demon" that attacks the hungry, weary soul, making us run from God's love in the middle of our days.
Norris calls acedia the "spiritual morphine" that we choose when life or other people become "too demanding"—admitting that "you know the pain is there yet can't rouse yourself to [care]." Still battling this ennui today in her 60s, she complains to a Benedictine friend about the 24/7 nature of the so-called "noonday demon," only to be told: "Well, we are speaking of cosmic time. And it is always noon somewhere."
Although Norris defines despair as the central problem of our day, Acedia & Me is full of hope and what the philosoper Søren Kierkegaard called "the passion of possibility." Norris dedicated her book to her husband, the ...1