Archives For Acedia


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of a Well-Ordered Life

A Feature Review of 

Acedia and its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire
R.J. Snell

Paperback: Angelico Press, 2015
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Reviewed by Tyler Campbell
No shortage of ink has been spilled surrounding the spiritual ramifications of our culture’s need for constant entertainment. Often times these didactic moments begin by addressing the material things that we spend considerable amounts of time with, and conclude with a call to disregard this type of lifestyle and return to a more disciplined religious life. But what of our metaphysical makeup implies the tension between discipline and lethargy? In his latest book, Acedia and its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire, R.J. Snell uses a variety of sources to create a modern definition of the Latin word acedia, which is generally translated as the noun sloth. Through his investigation Snell establishes that defining acedia as mere laziness misses out on the true character of the term, as seen within historical theology and scripture. By looking at acedia through a metaphysical lens and applying examples of contemporary distraction, Snell shows that the antithesis of acedia is found in a deeper understanding of the ways in which the Divine’s self-communicative love permeates into the mundane work of our life, making all that we do beautiful and important.

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Against Acedia
David Wheeler

From the collection Contingency Plans
(TS Poetry Press 2010).

David Wheeler - Against AcediaAgainst Acedia
Did you, by kismet, see the sky tonight,
its pallid stripe above a glowing frame,
the bound horizon, halfway held by light
and halfway sunk below our Boundary Bay?


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“A Dancer Preparing to Move”

A Review of
Writing the Silences: Poems
by Richard Moore

Reviewed by Thomas T. Turner II

Writing the Silences: Poems
Richard Moore
Hardback: U of California Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Richard Moore - WRITING THE SILENCES: POEMSIn her foreword to Richard O. Moore’s new book of poetry Writing the Silences, Brenda Hillman describes Moore’s poetry as evidence of a struggle “in relation to meaning itself, the idea of meaning in a world that has no easy gods or moral codes, a world in which institutions refuse to cooperate.” Hillman is apt to point this out, as the sheer brilliance of Moore’s poetry is found in the constant metaphysical probing for meaning in a post-Enlightenment world when such probing for meaning only leads to an endless chain of meaning upon meaning without any resolution. In effect, Moore writes his silences in Plato’s cave, the dim light of a fire giving up bits and pieces of poetic meaning before falling quickly back into the shadows of the cave.

Moore’s work is not a critique of modernism as much as it is a poetic realization of the world he was born into and writes about. Moore’s poem “Dog in the Forest” digs deep into the capriciousness of life and connects our metaphysical restlessness to acedia:

Can it be told when an ancient trace of faith
gave way under stress in every modern world?
. . .
There are paths which have left behind no odor of life.
. . .
Read the wind dream a sleep of unknowing lie down
with the Noonday Demon.

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Two excellent books that are being released in cheaper, paperback editions this week.  Now would be an excellent time to read them, if you haven’t already!

Acedia and Me - Kathleen Norris

Acedia and Me:

A Marriage, Monks
and A Writer’s Life.

Kathleen Norris.
March 2010.

Our 2008 Book of the Year!

[ Read our Review ]

[Buy the paperback! ]

Beyond Biotechnology:
The Barren Promise of Genetic Engineering.
Craig Holdrege and Steve Talbott.

University Press of Kentucky. 2010.

[ Read our Review ]

[ Buy the paperback! ]


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:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Acedia and Me:
A Marriage, Monks and A Writer’s Life.

Kathleen Norris.

Hardcover. Riverhead Books. 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $21 ] [ Amazon ]


“Why are we so depressed?”

A Review of
Acedia and Me:
A Marriage, Monks and A Writer’s Life.

by Kathleen Norris.


By Chris Smith.


Acedia and Me:
A Marriage, Monks and A Writer’s Life.

Kathleen Norris.

Hardcover. Riverhead Books. 2008.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”1594484384″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”222″]I have long harbored an intuition that the desert fathers and mothers have provided humanity with some of the keenest insights into the depths of the human conidion.  Kathleen Norris in her newest book Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life, demonstrates a similar intuition, as she probes the little-known temptation acedia, which – although its usage has all but ceased in the English language – is alive and well in our consumer culture.  What is acedia? Well, considering that Norris devotes a 40+ page appendix to laying out definitions and illustrations from historic and literary sources, one could say that acedia is hard to nail down.  In brief, acedia comes from Greek roots that denote a lack of caring and could be described as a sapping of energy, motivation and focus that often leads to a restlessness culminating in “a hatred for the place, a hatred for [one’s] very life [and] a hatred for manual labor” (xv) – to use the words of the fourth century monk Evagrius.  The desert monks found that acedia often set in during the heat of the mid-day hours, which also led some to refer to it as “the noon-day demon.”

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Halden Doerge reflects on
Slavoj Zizek’s new book Violence 


“I’m currently reading Slavoj Žižek’s latest book, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections. The book it vintage Žižek, going off on somewhat related tangents frequently that are always thought-provoking and often entertaining. What is helpful about the book is the way in which it rightly complexifies talk of violence and peace. Žižek delineates three forms that violence takes, one which we are familiar with, and two which tend to happen below the surface of our perceptions about society. The first form of violence that Žižek describes is what we commonly think of as violence: the event of one person perpetrating harm on another. This Žižek calls “subjective violence.” It is clear and visible and it is always perpetrated by a guilty subject. The central thing to note about how we perceive this form of violence is that it is always an interruption into a prior background of tranquility and peace. First things are in a state of peace and then that peace is disrupted by an act of violence.  … ”


Read the full review: 

Slavoj Žižek.

Paperback. Picador. 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $11 ] [ Amazon ]

Books and Culture reviews
Kathleen Norris’s newest book
Acedia and Me.

If Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett had waited a few years to perform their chart-topping hit so that they could first read Kathleen Norris’ new book Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life, they might have described more insightfully the “half-past twelve” tedium they were escaping for a “five-o’clock somewhere” drink. And country music aficionados like me might have understood better why we seek diversions from the daily tasks that seem so mind-numbingly routine.

Ever since Norris first encountered the word acedia in early monastic writings twenty years ago, she has been mulling it over, wiping the dust off this forgotten concept. In the book that grew out of that preoccupation, she examines her life—and her marriage in particular—in order to illustrate acedia’s characteristics, dangers, and cures, contemplating the many facets of this vice with the help of monks, psychologists, philosophers, poets, novelists, and pharmacologists.  …”

Read the full review:

Acedia and Me.
Kathleen Norris.
Hardcover. Riverhead. 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $21] [ Amazon ]
Neal Stephenson’s newest novel

“A telling moment comes early in Anathem, Neal Stephenson’s latest mind-bogglingly ambitious epic saga. On the planet Arbre, mathematicians and philosophers have been segregated from the rest of humanity for a very, very long time. They live in “concents” — an intentional conflation of the words “concentration camp” and “convent.” As the story begins to unfold, our hero, Fraa Erasmus, is giving an outsider a tour of the concent’s main attraction, a magnificent clock that depends on the sun for daily synchronization.

In practiced tour guide patter, Erasmus casually observes: “But even during a nuclear winter, when it can be cloudy for a hundred years, the clock doesn’t get too far out of whack.”

The concent’s residents organize their lives according to a time scheme in which not just seasons, but nuclear winters, come and go. Outside the concent’s walls, the rest of humanity goes about its business like so many fast-food- and video-game-obsessed mayflies.


Read the full review:

Neal Stephenson.

Hardcover. Wm. Morrow. 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $24 ] [ Amazon ]