He Only Asked Him Not to Leave His Cell

A practical experience of acedia is described by the desert hermit Heraclides, who received a brother troubled by restlessness in his new cell. Heraclides advised him not to follow an extreme regimen of self-discipline but to eat, drink, and sleep as needed. He only asked that the brother not leave his cell…

Simply stay where you are: A small thing to ask, right? But the young brother couldn’t do it. His cabin fever got so bad that he saw demons lurking in ever corner, even under the covers of his bed. Terrified by the vision, he disobeyed the sagely advice of his elder and ran to Heraclides’ door. Though the hermit was displeased and made him sit outside all night, he finally had pity on the weaker brother and showed him the path to spiritual maturity.

In January, I resolved to fight against acedia. Knowing my tendency towards slothfulness, especially when alone for many hours of the day, I’ve been intentional about using my time well in work and leisure.  For the most part, this experiment has gone fairly well. My daily task lists diminished as my belly grew, and now that Sam is here, I am grateful to do two or three things a day in addition to feeding, changing, and holding him.

Yet acedia may loom over the most orderly of days. Restlessness persists, despite the most intentional use of time and resources. Answering a vocation to stay put when you’re itching to move on is just as hard as following a call to some far off mission.  Lately, I’ve felt a certain solidarity with that poor acedia-ridden monk: even though he wasn’t requiring a hard life of himself in his cell, remaining in one place was just too much for him.

I’m accustomed to four-year stints: four years in high school, four years in college, and now I’m wrapping up my fourth year in Colorado Springs. I struggled through my freshman initiation to the working world, got more comfortable during my sophomore year, enjoyed the settled satisfaction of a junior and now….well…I’m ready to graduate, to move on to the next thing.  Is this an acedian habit of mind?

Springtime in Colorado hardly inspires hope for new life: a few bold crocuses peek out of the gravel here and there; early daffodils droop after a cold snap; some tint of color returns to the patches of brown grass. There’s no burst of color, no refreshing rains, no encouraging warmth. A robin might have the temerity to whistle a tune once or twice, but the dry air soon leaves him parched.  (April is the cruelest month, indeed.)

But lilacs blossom eventually, even in these dead lands. We just have to wait until late May or early June for spring to settle in around here. Maybe I need to settle in a little, too.



Filed under Catholicism, Courage, Domesticity, Faith, Reading

5 responses to “He Only Asked Him Not to Leave His Cell

  1. Allison


  2. My friend, I empathize with you completely. My last ten years have been marked by moves and changes of all calibers. San Diego, Paris, San Diego, married life, Monterey, and now Houston. I feel as restless sitting trying to sit through an eight-hour work day as I do trying to live over two years in one place. And I wonder if I should fight against the restlessness and force myself to settle, at least a bit, or if I should call it “youth” and “adventurousness” and “natural inquisitiveness”, and give myself over to it. And why not? The world is HUGE! We – so full of life. At sixty it may be time to settle, but now – probably not. Clearly, not for me 🙂

  3. Amy

    SO sympathetic. Are we the same person? There was that fruit tray… Can’t wait to see you and discuss these things. My Lenten resolution “just don’t be lazy.”

  4. Amy

    Also, title made me think of how many times I’ve asked Matt the same thing… (obviously until I read the whole post).

  5. It’s hard to be cooped up as a new mommy and, like you say, lucky to get much of anything done outside baby. But this will pass. In a few months, he will be able to stay by himself longer, and longer, and find interest in things other than holding and Mommy.

    And babies have a way of making people settle down and settle in. It just takes a while to get comfortable with each other.

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