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.