Monday, September 8, 2014

Kathleen Norris

from Kathleen Norris's Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer's Life:

being suspicious of our motives need not mean indulging in self-loathing or unnecessary guilt, for God has provided us with everything we need to cope with our bad thoughts and temptations. The corresponding virtues, or good thoughts, are always at our disposal. When Evagrius asserts that "virtues do not prevent the demons from assaulting us, but they do preserve us guiltless," he is elucidating an all-but-forgotten aspect of the doctrine of sin. The bad thoughts come to everyone at one time or another. No one is exempt from anger, jealousy, greed, gluttony, lust, pride, acedia. Our job is not to deny them or run from them, but to make our way through to the virtue on the other side. The virtue of greed is a fearlessness concerning one's future needs that translates into sharing what one has at present. Lust's virtue is a self-giving love that can endure all things. Acedia's virtue is a caring expressed in thoughtful and timely acts that enhance our relationship with others. . . .

modern life is increasingly unstable, marked by a lack of constancy and trust. In defense we adopt a disproportionate self-regard that does not allow us to perceive as sanity the early monks' refusal to see themselves as good or in the right. We are likely to recoil from Abba Poemen's response to the question "What is integrity?" He replied, "Always to accuse [oneself]." It is important to recognize that he and other monks were suggesting that people not become doormats wallowing in self-abnegation, but individuals with a realistic perception of their place in the world. These monks were also well aware that in order to give up the instinctive impulse toward self-justification, a person needed a healthy self-regard in the first place. . . .

This superficial me may show a confident face to the world but inwardly is plagued by fears and compulsions, and remains blind to its true condition. All too often, it harbors an acedia that arises from unacknowledged anger and manifests as passive-aggressive behavior. Evagrius believed that acedia in its most dangerous form derived from a lack of self-knowledge. "[coming] into being when someone . . . does not perceive the meaning of his temptation and as a result fights against it without understanding." I am often "without understanding" in my attempt to navigate the dense thickets of my good thoughts and bad. When I am mired in acedia, enthusiasm seems foolish and false. And it is no easy matter to spurn the comforts of pride even though I know that only a proper and balanced self-respect can free me to love myself as I am, and also better respect and love others. I am slow to respond to my heart's wisdom, although I know that anything less is deadly. So, I struggle.

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