The Other Journal has recently published a wonderful two-part interview with Kathleen Norris about her new book Acedia and Me, which you do not want to miss!!!
The Other Journal (TOJ): Hi, Kathleen. We’re really interested in your new book Acedia and Me. Also, a lot of our readers are going into church leadership positions or are interested in current trends in theology, so we are really excited to hear your perspective on things. Thank you very much.
Kathleen Norris (KN): Oh, great! I am interested, of course, in anything that talks about theology and culture.
TOJ: When I read Acedia and Me, I found myself feeling two emotions: relief and astonishment. I was relieved that someone had named this thing and astounded at how pervasive acedia had become. It was a little bit like finding one ant in the bedroom and then on further investigation finding a million ants in the bedroom! The more I read this book, the more I really did agree with the nun that warned you about the danger of approaching acedia—1
KN: Yes, I brought her up because to me, that’s it. Sometimes, some of the audiences I’ve had have said, “Is there anything positive about acedia that you can learn from it?” No. I think you just learn from the discipline. Like the desert monks say, “Prayer is warfare to the last breath.” So, there are some positive things, but I tell them that acedia is about the most negative thing I can imagine. It disconnects you from yourself, from other people, from God. It’s an incredibly negative thing. I really can’t think of a real positive spin on it. I can’t think of one.
TOJ: I was fascinated with the fact that it really is one of the most negative things yet also one of the most subtle and invisible things. It seems that it may also be the easiest thing to pass over; because it doesn’t wear a bright uniform, it blends in with the background really well.
KN: The best writing on acedia is really from the fourth century. You can’t beat Evagrius. He’s so good.
I, also, was so enchanted to find the great Canadian novelist Robertson Davies’s statement—if you look at my “commonplace book,” at the end of the book, I’ve included an excerpt from him. He really captures it, exactly what acedia is and how it works.2 He shows how it really kind of creeps up on us; we don’t quite know what it is and how devastating it is. And here he is, a fairly secular writer, I believe, in a speech he gave called “The Deadliest of the Sins,” and somehow, he understood what acedia was better than most—that is such a great description of acedia.
The reason that commonplace book exists, of course, is because I was collecting material on this for twenty years. I just kept finding things and then finding more things. That speech was actually a fairly late find for me. It was a speech he’d given, and it was collected in a book of his essays and speeches, miscellany kind of stuff.
TOJ: I remember following up on interviews with you over the years, and you occasionally mentioned that you were going to write a book on sloth.
KN: That was the easiest way to describe what I was trying to do, to talk about sloth, because if I said acedia, unless the person that I was talking to was Benedictine or a Trappist, they would have no idea what I meant. So that was the way I chose to talk about it. I would say sloth or spiritual sloth and then people could kind of connect, but normally the word acedia, for reasons I explain in the book, has been kind of lost to us. It’s not a familiar term.
Read the full interview: