Acedia: why I can’t make my bed

In Christian Century magazine, I came across an extract from Kathleen Norris’s new book, Acedia and me : a marriage, monks and a writer’s life. I had to look up acedia. It means spiritual sloth.

Her take on acedia is that it is a failure to find meaning in the ordinary, repetitious daily tasks and experiences of life. I identify so strongly with this. In my new novel, House of Zealots, one of the characters struggles against the feeling that eating, sitting, talking, gardening, washing up do not drive the revolution forward, and all that matters is changing the world. (It’s an exaggerated form of my own diseased thinking.)

Norris writes:

I was a bratty kid who didn’t want to make her bed.

“Why bother?” I would ask my mother in a witheringly superior tone. “I’ll just have to unmake it again at night.” To me, the act was stupid repetition; to my mother, it was a meaningful expression of hospitality to oneself, and a humble acknowledgement of our creaturely need to make and remake our daily environments. “You will feel better,” she said, “if you come home to an orderly room.” She was far wiser than I, but I didn’t comprehend that for many years.

I have now made my bed two days in a row. And I intend to follow this through, this symptom of a deeper malaise.

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10 thoughts on “Acedia: why I can’t make my bed

  1. It’s also spelt “accidia”, and I think I first came across it in Thomas Merton. But looking it up again now, it seems it’s connected to “ennui” which leads to the French and makes me think there is a connection to things Sartre is talking about (non-theologically) in Nausea.

    I used to associate it with depression, except that acedia/accidia obviously has a moral/religious dimension where depression (I think) does not, really.

    (There’s a chapter [“Lapse”] in Marion Campbell’s 1988 novel Not Being Miriam that really describes it well, though she doesn’t use that word.)

  2. I asked my psychiatrist once why do we have to keep doing these same mundane tasks over and over. I was expecting a profound answer thinking I had stumbled onto a rather deep intellectual question of life itself. He said, “that’s life”.

  3. Hey Tracy, I think that other spelling is more common, isn’t it? I wonder if it is a particular type of depression. I’ll have to follow up on some of those references.

    Judith, I think your psychiatrist was probably right, and maybe Norris is saying the same thing in this new work? But redeeming the routines, that’s the challenge!

  4. Thanks Nathan, I did eventually find something that worked (for me.) I happened to mention this attitude to a person whom I really didn’t hold in esteem as to giving me a good answer (I can be arrogant) and not liking what the psychiatrist said. But this guy nailed it for me, he, having lived in some of the poorest and degenerated parts of Florida(lotsa drugs) replied, “it could be a lot worse”. With this I recognized I had fallen into an ungrateful attitude, at least for me. My “entheo” came swiftly back. I felt sorry I had offended such a good God even though this was not my intention. How very subtle and slowly this frame of mind had come upon me and taken hold without me realizing.

  5. This is my first visit to your blog and I feel the need to put in my two cents, since I wrote about acedia myself the other day.
    I do think there is more a tie-in with depression than some kind of moral dimension. I was trained in chemistry and I have a healthy respect for the effect on behaviour that ensues from a chemical imbalance over which one has no control.
    While certain levels of acedia can be addressed with an act of will and changes of lifestyle, the full-blown type seems less amenable to this. It may have been the medieval’s way of addressing what we nowadays call depression.
    But God is found even in this darkness and companions us there. I should read Norris’s book — I love all her books!

  6. I am just reading the new Norris book and I love that quotation about making one’s bed. I especially like the part about showing hospitality towards oneself . As a person who struggle toward being organized, I welcome this way of looking at keeping up with clutter and cleaning. I look forward to reading your blog. I have cousins in Australia, have traveled there, and did not realize there were actual Christians in Australia. hee hee

  7. Hey Helen, there are no actual Christians in Australia, we’re still waiting for someone to bring us the good news. 😉

    Well, one thing we don’t have is any distribution of Norris’s book yet; if we want it we have to order it from overseas.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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