October 19, 2020

View from the (not so) front line

Vessel in a Drift of Diamond Light in the Sky of the Mind. Morris Graves

In a recent discussion, there was this nice note from regular commenter and friend Ted.

Mike, I’ve been wondering how the crisis has affected you and your work as hospice chaplain. Will there be a blog post about it?

A lot of your work must be in hospitals and nursing homes, which are now off-limits to you. Are you able to connect with patients and family members by phone or electronically? Do you meet with people for a walk?

The tragedy is that there must be an increased need for your service, at a time when your hands are tied. So far in this state, more than one-half of the covid-19 deaths have been in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. I think the figures are similar nation-wide.

It’s OK to feel frustrated. And it sounds like you need a chaplain, too. We’re praying for you.

• Ted

I’ve thought several times of giving a report of what it’s like to be me and to be a hospice chaplain in this pandemic. I’ll start with the work first. That’s easier.

In short, my work has not changed much. Most of my patients live at home with their families, and the majority of those families have not been victims of the virus. Our team simply takes extra precautions — the usual stuff: we are more attentive to handwashing, we wear masks on every visit, etc. In fact, for a time things have been slower. The chaplains and social workers have not been making as many visits, but have relied more on phone contacts.

With regard to our hospital and nursing home patients, not much has changed there either. Chaplains in our hospitals have not been allowed in the Covid units yet, but that mostly affects the hospital chaplains, not we who work in hospice. We’ve had no inpatient Covid patients on our hospice service. The nursing homes have a variety of rules about visits, but I have not been prevented from seeing any of my patients in those settings. This then involves a bit more work calling families and keeping them updated, because they do not have access.

I’ve had little fear for myself. I’ve not been conscious of being in many vulnerable situations in my work. I am careful and the public places where I work have clear policies and procedures in place. Homes, of course, are not always controlled environments, but our families are respectful of our safety. The one situation that is a crap shoot is the death visit. These can draw large family gatherings and they can take place in confined spaces. If I end up getting the virus, it may well be because of one of these visits, no matter how careful I try to be.

But like I’ve said, I have not felt afraid of contracting Covid-19. I know that I am technically in an at-risk group, being over 60 years old. But I am generally healthy and know that I have access to excellent care. I wish everyone could say that.

The pandemic and its stay-at-home orders have affected me much more personally.

We all have besetting sins, and a primary one for me is the sin of acedia. The Online Medical Dictionary (2000) defines acedia as “a mental syndrome, the chief features of which are listlessness, carelessness, apathy, and melancholia.” In her book, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life, Kathleen Norris quotes the ascetic Evagrius, who describes a monk with acedia like this:

…when he reads…yawns plenty and easily falls into sleep. He rubs his eyes and stretches his arms. His eyes wander from the book. He stares at the wall and then goes back to his reading for a little. He then wastes his time hanging on to the end of words, counts the pages, ascertains how the book is made, finds fault with the writing and the design. Finally he just shuts it and uses it as a pillow. Then he falls into a sleep not too deep, because hunger wakes his soul up and he begins to concern himself with that. (p. 5)

Bingo.

Norris goes on to say that “It is a risky business to train oneself…to embrace a daily routine that mirrors eternity in its changelessness.” This is why acedia was and is such a besetting sin for contemplatives and those with certain monastic vocations. I have found it to be a problem in the structureless environment that Covid-19 sheltering-in-place has forced upon us. It has been a lifelong challenge for me to create structure and routine for myself. And now I find myself in a daily life that is wholly amorphous, unable to provide shape and form to my nebulous spirit.

The energy it took to write that last paragraph was enormous.

I think I’ll go get something to eat.

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    Hi Fellow Travelers,

    We are all traversing this pandemic in our own ways.
    Don’t tell me we are all in this together. We are not.
    We are individually muddling through the mire which every day presents itself and grow deeper each day.
    My son and daughter in various parts of the planet express their troubles and coping mechanisms in this world wide pandemic.
    They are not in my situation nor am I in theirs. We can but support each other by electronic means. So impersonal. I so much need a physical hug.
    I sit at home unable to see my John. I talk at him by telephone at the nursing home. He does not know I am on the other end of the telephone. The satisfaction is mine alone. My duty done. He is supposed to have a minor surgical procedure.This has been postponed for two months.

    I am hoping Christiane has some news for us.
    Much love sent to her.
    Her situation is so different again and we all support her in her troubles with her husbands crisis.
    If she reads this know I for one and maybe many of us are praying and holding her close each hour.
    May we all have peace in these difficult times.

    Susan

    • Christiane says

      Hello Susan,

      news is not ‘good’, husband still on respirator and drugs being given to clear out the fluid in his lungs in hope that he will be able to survive being taken off the respirator , his heart is dodgy (he coded twice in the ER on admission), and the cancer has metastisized and is pressing on his lower brain stem. The doctors don’t give much hope but if he lives a little longer, my plan is to take him home and rent a hospital bed and hire a nurse for him, if this is possible.
      They may try to take him off respirator today or tomorrow. So glad my son is here. Thank you all for your prayers and I pray for your situation also, Susan. Am married fifty-one years, six months, and counting. I try to be thankful for all blessings and the good care he is recieving at hospital. Am preparing for the worst news, but can not let go of hope or I can’t function. Moment by moment. You take care, dear Susan. Sending hug.

    • Susan —

      “We are all traversing this pandemic in our own ways.
      Don’t tell me we are all in this together. We are not.”

      Made me think of the old spiritual,

      You gotta walk that lonesome valley
      And you gotta walk, walk it by yourself
      Nobody else can walk it for you
      You gotta walk, walk it by yourself.

  2. Two thoughts:

    — Evagrius had a great sense of humor!

    — I bet he was describing himself , what he had to fight against in himself to focus his mind and heart. And I bet that sense of humor — about himself — served him well in the fight.

  3. My heart goes out to you Mike.

    Physical activity and being able to do as much work–which is physical for the most part being a remodeler–as I want has allowed me to escape from the sense of confinement that many are experiencing.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      +1

      2020 is the landscaping & yard ward year for me, after building a building in 2019. Very fortunate timing.

    • It will be better once the weather is a little more consistent and we are able to work outside more. You are correct, that really helps.

  4. “Norris goes on to say that “It is a risky business to train oneself…to embrace a daily routine that mirrors eternity in its changelessness.” ”

    Since I’m not sure that eternity is definable as changelessness, I’m not sure the reaction to changelessness is actually a sin.

    • +1.

      It seems to me to be an error to call a potential mental syndrome like acedia a “sin.” In fact, many a comment has been made here at iMonk as to the “shaming” that’s done by evangelicals regarding equating mental health issues with sin. Quite unhealthy religion. Don’t do that to yourself, CM. This isn’t a sin issue.

      • Acedia is traditionally listed as one of the seven deadly sins. I accept it as such, but…

        Please understand, when I call it a “sin”, I am not using standard evangelical shallow language about a sin I am committing. The seven deadly sins are not so much sins we commit as they are ways we humans struggle under the dominion of Sin as a power that is ruling in the world and affecting our human experience.

        Saying that, however, also does not mean I bear no responsibility in the matter. Within the limitations of our weakness, brokenness, and susceptibility to Sin’s power, we still have opportunities (especially as people in Christ with the Spirit) to walk in newness of life rather than in the patterns Sin leads us in (Eph. 2:1-10).

        With this understanding, I don’t consider naming it “sin” is in any way shaming to myself or others.

        • I hear ya. I just don’t like to see people beating themselves up for situations and conditions that have deeper underlying things going on in them. Self-care is important… healthy self-care, that is!

        • Christiane says

          Hello Chaplain Mike,
          Kathleen Norris’ book on acedia is a good one. Depression presents in many different ways. I hope to give your post better attention in future. God Bless!

        • Burro (Mule) says

          Father Stephen, as usual, put his finger right on the source of the problem when he addressed sin-as-naughty-behavior;

          “Modern Christianity is three parts shame attached to one part the fantasy of choice”.

          It takes a lot of time and effort to crawl out of that hole.

      • Rick Ro. — Acedia, as classically understood and defined in the religious monastic literature dealing with the subject, is not depression. It is more like torpor or listlessness, indifference, in combination with an intentional refusal to undertake the hard work of spiritual discipline — and the monotony inevitably involved in that — preferring rather a mode of avoidance, which may focus on immediate pleasure rather than the hard work. Neither sadness nor depression necessarily have anything to do with it; the choice of ease, even of hedonism in its vulgar sense, rather than arduous spiritual work does. It has been psychologized in the modern era to overlap with understandings of clinical depression, but I don’t think the modern psychological understanding of the word is what Norris is referring to in this passage, although she definitely engages the intersection, and the confusion, of the two understandings of acedia in other parts of the book.

        • +1

        • The inclusion of a medical definition makes it difficult to separate the two. Is it a mental condition or a spiritual failing, then? I guess the blurred lines make it difficult for me to know how to respond. Should I beat myself up for my mental condition, or face it as a character flaw?

          Worse is when unhealthy religion enters into it. “You should be doing more” and “You have no reason to feel that way” are poor responses to people suffering with whatever you want to call this.

          • Rick, I’m saying you should not beat yourself up for either. If we have a robust definition of Sin that sees it as a power overshadowing and infiltrating our lives, with some measure of responsibility on our part, then we will not understand sin as something to beat ourselves up over. We confess our failed part and seek cleansing and healing, as well as help and renewal in Christ.

            If we learn to see troubled mental conditions as a part of a Sin-dominated world, then we don’t have to beat ourselves up either. We lament our condition and seek to trust in the One who overcame the dominion of sin and evil and death

            • To your credit, your view of sin and the typical evangelical view are quite different. I cringe at the use of that term in the realm of mental health because most evangelicals approach it quite differently than you do. We’ve all seen that.

          • I’m with Rick Ro on this.

            It sounds *very* much like a form of depression – perhaps reactive, in this case?

            I personally feel that it’s profoundly unhelpful to label it as “a sin” – no blame here, to Chaplain Mike or anyone else, but the description of “acedia” per se is *so* much like some of the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia that i feel as if it’s important to mention it. (I’ve been living with both for quite a few decades now.)

            Stress takes a toll on our mental, physical and emotional well-being, and the cumulative result is often very similar to the description of acedia. Add minor or reactive depression, which is common during heightened stress, and BOOM.

            Please understand that i mean no criticism of anyone. But I do think it would be helpful to look into the things I’ve just mentioned . For those who don’t have diagnoses of major depressive disorder, CFS or fibromyalgia (and, I’m sure, many other things), i hope that you’ll take some time to look into other probable causes – like normal reactions to heightened stress – and perhaps set aside what i honestly believe is a very unhelpful, even potentially damaging, framing of the many symptoms listed as being characteristic of acedia.

            Our bodies and brains are trying their best to cope with an extraordinary amount of stress at this time. Please be kind to yourselves, especially those of you who, re in emotionally and physically taxing lines of work that can take a toll on our always finite resources at the best of times.

            Wishing you all grace and peace, and praying for you and yours, Susan and Christine. I wish i could give you both physical hugs.

            • Yes.

            • No real argument against what you’re saying, unless you are saying that every negative mental state can be subsumed under mental illness, or that there are no spiritual realities that are not subsumed under and explained by psychological realities. Norris’ book is an in depth and nuanced personal engagement with her own struggles with mental illness in connection with dry periods when it came to her own creative process as a poet and writer, how that intersected with her entire life (but especially with the death of her husband), how it all overlaps, or doesn’t overlap, with the terminology and understanding of ancient Christian religious monastic experience, and how it is all further mixed up by with the modern romantic notion — false, as Norris strongly argues — that artistic creativity travels hand-in-hand with and depends on depression (so-called melancholia), suffering, and self-destructive patterns in the artist’s life. Norris argues that what is most conducive to prolonged, maturing artistic creativity is discipline — including the discipline of spiritual practice, and attending to ones psychological and physical well-being (which her husband, who was also a writer, did not do). The book is also a way that she processes her grief over his loss.

              • Robert – no, I’m not saying that.

                As for Nortis, let’s just say that i have profound differences of opinion with her.

                Above all, plese, everyone, do not overspiritualize these kinds of occurrences. They are serious red flags for many physical and mental health problems and diseases that can be hugely destructive. Any autoimmune condition, for example. Or diabetes. Or…. i could keep listing things. Hoping you can, too, and that anyone who’s struggling with the things listed as symptoms of acedia will,seek help, from MDs and mental health professionals.

                The # of suicides by healthcare professionals in the epicenters of the COVID-19 epidemic are, sadly, going up. The NYT published a story yesterday about a prominent ER doc who was so overwhelmed by PTSD that she committed suicide.

                This is NOT a time to leave things on the shelf. Plesee get checked out!

                If I had the # of the National Suicide Prevention hotline handy, I’d post it. All of you in the US should have access to crisis lines for your respective counties. Please, please use them.

                None of us can handle th3se things all alone.

                • Note: i do not mean to suggest that tons of us here are suicidal. As for tons of folks in the general population, that’s a different matter.

                  PTSD is also very insidious. And I’m sure that there are going to be unbelievable figures on its incidence before all this is over.

                  Maybe your acedia is actually from sources like hypoglycemia, diabetes, or other undiagnosed organic problems?

                  In other words: please seek healthcare, even if what you’re experiencing seems “spiritual.” Imcan see a correlation between being, in Mike’s case, a hospice chaplain and supposed acedia. It sounds like it could be the direct result of the unique demands and stressors of that work.

                  Just my opinion; YMMV. But please believe that I’m not talking through my hat (includes severe illness of close family members + stresses experienced by caregivers).

                  • Robert, i completely reject the Romantic stereotypes of artists and mental illness (being a musician myself), but that’s not relevant to what I’m attempting to get across.

                    Good psyciatrists do physical workups in order to rule out any possible organic problems before trying to make diagnoses.

                    We need to be alert to red flags ourselves. And bring them to the attention of professionals who can diagnose and treat them.

                    4th c. monks can’t do that for us.

                  • Norris would never recommend that one not get things like this “checked out”, and I don’t think anyone here would either.

                    As to the difficulty in getting someone to “see” you at this time, that is another matter. And it is absolutely shameful that this country has made healthcare, including mental healthcare, a scarce resource that the poor and financially struggling — and there are so many now! — often cannot access or afford.

                    • I hear you, and agree.

                      Telehealth protocols for all mental healt ncounseling in PA are currently in effect and have been since the middle of last month.

                      So yes, there are ways – true if many MDs as well, though obviously, video chat is no substitute for actual physical exams.

                      Therapists are doing intakes via videoconferencing.

                    • Again, if you check 9ut my reply downthread re. the down-to-earth attitude of the nuns i lived with re. mental health issues, that will explain where I’m coming from.

                      I have no doubt that Norris’s time with women religious has been transformative and profoundly beneficial to her. I mean, I’ve been there, too, and the things i took for granted at that time are still informing my life, in a profound way.

                      But I think acedia might be a convenient catchall for her. I can’t emphasize enough how much i disagree with her on this, and how uneasy it makes me. If someone had insisted, back in the 80s, that my anxiety and depression = acedia, i might well have avoided seeking help.

                      And as a result, i might not be here today. That isn’t melodrama or exaggeration. It’s the simple truth of the matter.

                      Cool?

                    • Yes, cool, numo. And I’m always very glad to hear from you and dialogue with you. I wish you’d come around more often.

                    • Lest I was misunderstood: I didn’t mean it’s cool or good for people to be wrongly directed regarding the need for mental healthcare! God forbid!

                    • Robert – there’s no need to apologize! I understood what you meant. 🙂

                      And thanks re. coming around. Here’s the thing: i have had difficulty reading and commenting on this blog and others like it since the 2016 campaign season. Current events (including things that should simply NOT be happening, vis-a-vis our southern border) = i only have so much energy and space in my head for all the religion posts, unless they involve calling out the very obvious evils that we’re facing.

                      It’s pretty well impossible for me to set all of that aside to think about theological issues.

                      I have been reading lots, doing creative things as best i can, and, in 2016, 2019 and this year, trying to recover from a torn ligament + various other injuries to my knees and surrounding areas. Between dealing with that and having to take some medicines (very carefully!) that help with pain, i haven’t been up to par a good deal of the time.

                      So, it’s not the company here; it’s a combination of real life issues that’s made me have to set aside participation in a number of different things.

                      I hope to be able to come back here someday, and to rejoin the conversation. For right now, though, it’s very hard, and exhausting.

                      I think you might understand this quite well. I certainly do miss folks from here and other blogs.

                      All the best to you and your wife!

                    • I do understand, numo. The best to you and yours.

              • But yes, Norris does intentionally retain the word “sin”, even personally salvages it from the ancient lexicon of ascetic theology for her own use — though she has no intention of imposing it on the many for whom it has become only a term of abuse. She does this in a number of her books, and makes it quite clear that doing so cuts against the grain of her education and background, in which the idea of sin was at best seen as quaint, and at worst atavistic and destructive. She does so because she thinks it a useful word, both as a poet and as a spiritual person, since properly understood she believes it can express what she considers a reality: that one can know the good, and intentionally turn away from it to an illusion, a lie, a negation of the good and the true, to avoid doing the work that the good would require. She may be wrong — though my own personal experience inclines me to think she’s right — but her discussion is nuanced, personal, thoughtful, and requires the context of her wider writing to understand.

                • I profoundly disagree with her on this topic.

                  Hoping what I’ve posted here explains why. I mean these guys didn’t live normal lives,,and most of them fasted so much and had such limited diets at the best of times that there could be a huge problem caus3d by insufficient nutrition..

                  It doesn’t pay to characterize this as “sin.” I know that 1sthand.

                  • You must be talking about a different Kathleen Norris than the one I am — honestly, I wouldn’t recognize her from what you’re saying about her!

                    • Nope!

                      Just a completely different POV than yours.

                      Please see my other recent replues here, including the one about my having lived in a convent. 🙂

                    • Robert, i don’t think she understands the kinds of mental and physical health isdues that can cause the symptoms if “acedia.” In that, she’s doing a great disservice to many of her readers, not unlike charismatics who attempt to “exorcize” epileptics, gay people, as well as those who suffer from anxiety disorders, depression if all kjnds, bipolar I and II, etc.

                      Have people tried to tell he that anxiety, depressionm etc. are rooted in sin and the demonic? Why yes, they have, repeatedly, Good thing i didn’t belueve them, or i might not be sitting here typing replies to you. 🙂

                      And it’s fine by me if you get something very different from Norris’s work than i do. We all bring ourselves to the books we read, after all.

                      But i also think that both Rick and i are on the right track here. Again, YMMV.

                  • Numo, this is a Christian theological blog. I don’t think we can talk about any forms of brokenness in the world without talking about Sin. Notice I capitalize it, because I am not talking about “spiritualizing” mental or physical infirmities and placing the blame on those who suffer them because they commit sins. This is all too common in certain forms of religion, but not mine.

                    Sin is named in scripture as one of the great powers that exercises dominion in the world and I think the biblical writers saw us more as the victims of its rule rather than as a bunch of little “sinners” continually making bad choices on our own.

                    Under the rule of Sin, Paul says that creation itself is groaning and longing to be set free. Even so, people who suffer the kinds of illnesses and conditions you note are groaning and longing to be set free. We will not be liberated simply from those particular problems, but from the overarching powers which seek to keep us bound by them. This is the victory of Christ and the promise of new creation.

                    Therefore, I don’t hesitate to use the word Sin, but only in this more robust way. As a Christian and a writer, this is an essential part of my perspective and how I narrate the world.

                    • Chaplain Mike,

                      I understand, although i have to say that, for a variety of reasons, imam more inclined tiward some Jewish views of sin and wrongdoing these days (includes not believing inthe Christian concept of Original Sin, which just cannot gave existed in Hesus’own time, or until Augustine, really).

                      But that’s probably not something that needs to be discussed ATM.

                      Let’s just say that although we might disagree on acedia as a phenomenon (rather than being an indicator of physical/mental health problems), I’m sure we agree on much else.

                      But again, what Evagrius and Norris view as “sin” might be something else entirely. We are all inclined to view new informatiin through the lenses we’ve been using for long periods of time, i think. Unless new ways of seeing come into play.

                      It’s pretty well impossible for me to divorce “acedia” from the category of physical and mental health. And Evagrius himself might well have (as an example) been suffering from sleep deprivation as a result of waking up to pray the nighttime offices. There are further variables that could be plausible, but I’ve said something about one of them in another reply.

                      Perhaps this “sin” is something that’s a grey area? And might nit actually be sin at all?

                    • I only cite Norris’s book and those she quotes as illustrations that I find enlightening. It doesn’t mean I agree with every aspect of what she or they say. I think I’ve made my own perspective pretty clear.

                    • Ack! Apologies for all typos above.

                      Time to call it a day. Touchscreens are unforgiving.

                    • [Mike, I have a comment in limbo from about an hour ago….]

                      Good stuff here; reading the back-and-forth between Robert F and numo is like watching a good tennis match.

                      Mike, your comment here helped: “I think the biblical writers saw us more as the victims of [sin’s] rule rather than as a bunch of little “sinners” continually making bad choices on our own.” I mentioned in my earlier comment that my former pastor preached an unusually dismal sermon on “sloth”–which I take to be a good Anglo-Saxon word for “acedia.”

                      If sloth, or acedia, or PTSD, or grief, or depression, are done to us as if by attack from spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12), or by chemical forces in the brain, or from poor diet, or lack of sleep, or from medication, should we feel guilt and shame? Is it our fault that the black dog lurks outside?

                      No. But that’s how it’s often presented by those preaching “biblical” sermons. I try to be aware at all times that the black dog is nearby, to avoid him. Should I fight him off instead of merely avoiding him (as in, “snap out of it; what’s the matter with you; get yourself right with God”)? Is it my acedia that lets me take the passive route?

                      One gets tired. Thank God spring is coming and we’ll be outside more often.

                    • Ted – yep. I have been called “slothful” and “lazy” in direct response to depression, physical illnesses like mono and CFS, Seasonal Affective Disorder, chronic pain…. i could add more things.

                      One of the men who condemned me literally said (in an angry and dismissive way) “I don’t have time for that!” when I tried to give him a short article on CFS. He also was convinced that i lied to get Social Security disability.

                      I have to say that my experiences with evangelical/charismatic clergy (ordained and not) regarding these and related issues has been dismal. They so easily label just about any problem as “sin” without ever bothering to educate themselves, let alone defer to professionals who actually *do* understand what’s going on ( MDs, for example).

                      While I realize that not all evangelical clergy are so benighted and lacking in compassion, it’s a sad fact that many really *are* in that camp.

                      Like the man who assumed that there’s no such thing as depression, and that what i was experiencing was caused by demons.

                      He was a former HS principal who had no understanding of science or medicine. This was in the 80s, during Reagan’s 2nd term. He and other “elders” at the church i attended had moved from Michigan to the DC areanin order to be “personal pastors” to a member of Congress, his staff, and their families. (The guy served 1 term and wasn’t re-elected b/c a reporter at one of his rallies caught him calling his opponent a minion of Satan on tape – my phrasing is slightly exaggerated, but that’s what he meant. He made no bones about it.)

                      Ok, so i went way off- topic, but there you are. I do think there’s a tendency for many who run churches (i hesitate to use the term “pastor” in this case) to see themslves as omniscient. The chance to be on the podium, and to be lionized by the congregation- that draws a lot of unprepared and, frankly, unstable people. It’s not confined to any single group or denomination.

                  • numo, I do agree that Norris has a tendency to idealize those with monastic and other special vocations. My own negative experience growing up in the Catholic Church inoculated me in such a way the alarm-bells go off when I read starry-eyed passages about religious like some of the ones in her books. The adulation sounded a little like that given by adolescents to rock stars. So I think we agree there.

                    • Robert – I figured as much.

                      Every single person who lives in an enclosed community (as well as those who are religious, but who work out in “the world”) is a human being with strengths and flaws, just like the rest of us. I would suspect that those who are cloistered experience an awful lot of conflict with their peers at times, perhaps even more so than a lot of us who are not now cloistered and never will be.

                      Just having X vocation doesn’t confer sanctity. It does seem as if Jesus tried to get that across to the disciples on more than one occasion, no?

                      And yes, i think Norris is a fangirl. That doesn’t mean that the people she idealizes aren’t good, decent folks, but it is kind of hard for me to understand why she elevates them above and beyond both members of other religious orders who live “out here,” not to mention compassionate, insightful laypeople, both Christian and of other faiths and of no faith at all.

                      It kind of reminds me of girls in Catholic schools who went through a period of time (usually in junior high) where the idea of being a nun was attractive due to romanticized notions that didn’t bear much relationship to reality.

                    • I must admit that I’m very fond of the late Sister Wendy Beckett, who you might remember from the series of documentaries on art that the BBC made with her.

                      But what delighted me about her, then and now, was her personality + her pretty amazing insights into all kinds of works that she had only ever seen *on postcards* prior to her gigs with the BBC. That is truly remarkable, and I think she was someone who had a rare gift for communication and teaching.

                      Plus she had this amazing way of walking, as if she was floating about 3″ above the ground. (Likely from having learned to walk quietly back when she wore a full-length habit.)

                      There are some truly remarkable people in religious life. I’m sure she never dreamed that she would end up speaking so eloquently to so many – especially since her passion for art came pretty late in life.

                      Anyway, i knew some nuns who were pretty remarkable, but, living with them as i did, i got to see facets of their lives that i was too young to understand or fully appreciate. What was clear, though, was their humanity, in both “good” and not so good respects. But they all tried to face down their fears and fallibilities like warriors in martial arts movies do when confronted by the bad guys. In both cases, there’s a higher purpose involved, one that leaves no room for pretending that they do no wrong.

                      If that’s hero/heroine worship, weel, then I’m guilty as charged. But i don’t think it is.

                • I’m very familiar with her work and believe she romanticizes the lifves of religious, especially those who are cloistered. As do many Protestants, when coming face to face with other branches of the church where there are sermingly more holynvocations.

                  Note: the most matter-of-fact people I’ve EVERVknown on these 8sdues are nuns. Largely b/c all kinds of physical and mental health isdues show up,in the lives of those in religious commu ities.

                  How do i know this, being Protestant?

                  Answer: i lived in a convent for about 14 months when i was in undergrad school, and literally saw issues of this exact kind in the lives of various nuns. Let me tell you, recs to MDs and mental health professionals were standard operating procedure! And it helped, it really did.

        • So, jadedness and laziness rather than boredom. As long as it’s more clearly defined by that, I can get it. But i still don’t see boredom with repetition as being in the same category.

  5. Wow! A fourth century monk knew me personally!

  6. And when finally the bottom fell out
    I became withdrawn
    The only thing I knew how to do
    Was to keep on keepin’ on
    Like a bird that flew
    Tangled up in blue…
    — Bob Dylan, “Tangled Up in Blue”

    Keep on keepin’ on, CM.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      +1

      Sometimes all there is to do is to keep doing.

      • Getting something to eat and then taking a nap are things to do, as well — particularly the latter, if you have a sleep deficit like many people apparently do. I don’t think Evagrius had a grasp on the concept of sleep deficit, and he may have had one himself.

        • Robert – yes. And inadequate nutrition as well, I’m thinking. Those asetics could and still can be pretty extreme per fasting and everyday diet, too.

          Incidentally, when i was 1st diagnosed with CFS and actually had to take 2-3 naps per day (or get sicker, with other things), the “pastor” at my church ripped me for being a sluggard and told me that those naps were sinful.

          I kept taking naps, because I couldn’t get by without them. I ate well, because that was a necessity.

          Sometimes those who are professional clergynare VERY unforgiving – and uneducated – on these isdues, even those with firsts from Oxford and Cambridge. (As in this case, though I’m blanking on the city + name of his college.)

          • Numo, some of the tactics used by cults to condition their followers include sleep deprivation and a low-protein diet (as well as constant indoctrination, peer pressure, preventing one from being alone, etc.). And it works.

            • Yep. I am familiar with that, though I haven’t experienced it 1sthand.

              Asetics are self-denying to a degree that makes me wonder how any of them survive. And it’s likely that many didn’t, from late antiquity through, say, the 18th c.

              It gets even more complicated when fatal illnesses (like TB) figure into things, as is the case with one of the more recently canonized Roman Catholic saints who died very young, of TB.

              there are parallels in other religions, like Hinduism and Buddhism.

              • Ted, another tactic cults use is cutting people off from their families. I actually *have*experienced that, back in the 70s, in a charismatic group that was a cult, basically..

  7. –> “…the chief features of which are listlessness, carelessness, apathy, and melancholia.”

    I’ve been reflecting this past six months on the word “melancholy,” feeling like that is an underlying state of mind of mine. I wouldn’t call it depression per se, but just an underlying sadness. Fortunately, those other three don’t appear to be raising their ugly heads yet, but I’ll be on the lookout.

    Curious, I just looked up the origin of the word “melancholy.” Greek for “black bile.” Hmmm… Seems overstated to me. More like a “perpetual gray.” Oh, well.

    • It fairly screams “depression”; also physical and mental fatugue.

      Add in the way that our country appears, via many studies, tombe chronically sleep-deprived…. and bingo. “Acedia.”

      Also, the way the monk in question was living ( possibly including interrupted sleep due to getting up several times per night to pray the offices), very possibly a limited diet ( which, I’m guessing, might not have been sufficient per replenishing vitamin, mineral and other nutritional necessities), and along comes this curious “sin” that sounds like it’s nobody’s fault. And that requires other kinds of cures or solutions.

      Just my opinion, based on my own familiarity with physical and mental fatigue and torpor caused by a variety of medically-documented conditions. Fwiw, i get even more intense symptoms of “acedia” every year during peak pollen allergy season.

      Please, let’s not overspiritualize things that have physical causes and which can take a toll on mental/emotional well-being – particularly true during this unprecedented (in our lifetimes) crisis.

      Also, please keep in mind that many in healthcare and related professions are now suffering, or will soon be suffering from, PTSD. That has absolutely nothing to do with “acedia,” even though some of its hallmarks are similar.

      People in the 4th c. didn’t have access to – or an understanding of – many kinds of illnesses, including all of the things that fall under the mental illness heading. Just as we are generally quick to view the epileptic boy in the Synoptic Gospels as suffering from physical illness rather than demonic possession, please – let’s not be quick to ascribe the symptoms classed as acedia back then to be written off as an entirely “spiritual” problem/ailment. I would suggest checking in with one’s GP, and seeking mental health services, if these things seem to be proliferating in anyone’s life.

      Thanks for reading. I realise YMMV, but i hope folks will give some consideration to other possible causes. We’re all under tremendous stress ATM, with no real relief (in the form of actual cures and effective vaccines) in sight. Even if this isn’t hitting any of us on a conscious level, it can be doing just that on a subconscious level.

      Example: i am immunocompromised and my weekly grocery store trip is quite stressful, no matter whether I’m aware of it or not. The stress begins building several days prior to the actual trip. When i do it and get home, the physical and emotional relief are very apparent, although other, less obvious parts of my psyche are still under stress, with worries about whether, despite mask, gloves and disinfectant + handwashing, i might have picked up COVID-19. I can’t imagine that anyone is detached from those worries, unless they live in a different universe altogether.

      • Regarding those trips to the grocery store, you are coming in loud and clear. I’m not immunocompromised — though I am in high risk categories for a complications if I get COVID-19, being over 60, overweight, and having COPD (no, I wasn’t and am not a smoker) — but my wife is. I dread going to the grocery, strategizing all the preventative measure I think I should beforehand for hours, not sure if I’m failing to do so while I do the shopping, never sure if I was successful once I’m done, and terrified that I will be the one to bring this dread disease home to my wife. When I come home, I wash my hands, bring in the groceries bit by bit, sanitize items where it is practicable, isolate all other items for 24 hours; then I take off every article of clothing, throw them straight in the washer, shower immediately, and then I’m ready to collapse for the rest of the day. The mental and physical strain is excruciating.

        • * didn’t have access to information on…

          Robert, that really sounds gruelling. But i understand.

          My vet is still doing surgeries and sering emergency patients, although, as a cancer survivor, she’s high-risk. Her staff are doing pickup, dropoff and payment in the parking lot, and it’s working very well.

  8. Michael Bell says

    Thanks for writing this Chaplain Mike. I had the same question as Ted, and was wondering how all this was impacting you.

  9. As for myself, being on furlough from my job, and stuck at home, has resulted in too much time to dwell on fears, my lack of control over so many things, and the uncertainty of the future. In addition, all that unstructured time has become a playground for my propensity for depression. And then my wife — with whom I live in a small apartment — is dealing with her own stuff too, which of course means that I am struggling with her issues. just as she struggling with mine.

  10. Thanks for naming this. I’m a wannabe contemplative and also fall prey to acedia. Also an enneagram 9, if anyone relates to that language. I read Norris’ book last year.

    This manifested most recently for me on Sunday morning. Our church is semi-livestreaming (recording services ahead of time, but debuting them at our normal Sunday meeting times). There is a live chat feature. I was designated as a host, in charge of greeting people and chatting with them. Every single “Hi Joe!” Hey Smith family!” “Great to see you!” felt completely phony and sapped my energy. I’m staying away from exclamation points for a long time.

    • If i might make a suggestion… your impression of those things being falsely cheerful and strained is kiely because they *are* just that. I would probably just turn off the livestream and walk away.

      Pretending that everything is normal when it’s clearly not doesn’t seemmout of line to me – rather, the opposite.

      Just my .02-worth.

      • Well, here’s the thing. Our church community is finding what we are doing immensely helpful right now. That includes a wide spectrum: families, the elderly, and people who hardly ever show up on a Sunday.

        I’m like you. If it wasn’t my job right now, I wouldn’t bother with livestreaming. But that’s me. Not everyone is like me.

        But I can speak honestly and say that nobody is pretending everything is normal. We address the current crisis routinely. Nobody wants this, and if things every go back to some semblance of normal, nobody is going to rally to keep the livestream thing going. We’re doing the best we can. I’m trying to not let my attitude and personality get in the way.

        • Ok, points taken!

          That still doesn’t mean that your personal reactions are wrong per se.

          Different people will react differently- i suspect human personalities are as diverse as snowflakes, that no two are alike. So… perhaps your responses are just as valid as those of others that you cited?

          I think livestreaming is hard for many folks. And that’s fine. I can see how you, doing the work you do, have to set your personal reactions off to one side, as i would if I were in your shoes.

          I think videoconferencing can feel very strained, unless it’s one on one. And even then, sometimes. Plus this kind of livestreaming isn’t something any of us know how to negotiate. We are making it up as we go along. 🙂

  11. * likely

  12. I have this very long honey do list that never gets any smaller but sometimes, just sometimes I can keep pace with it. This keeps me from experiencing what CM is talking about today partly because I don’t sit down until its time to just chill out before heading to bed.

    I actually fear I could suffer from this if I allowed myself to, but as a doctor once told me, I don’t really give myself permission to feel that. Maybe so, and one day I might just explode…..

    • David Greene says

      I have this very long honey do list that never gets any smaller

      Me too! 🙂

  13. Mike, thanks for addressing this. I’m just getting internet back after yesterday’s blow and am just seeing this.

    There’s a lot to read here, with a lot of good comments. And great to see Numo too.

    I’m glad you’re able to visit patients in nursing homes and hospitals. That hadn’t occurred to me, as I can’t visit Mom at her assisted living residence.

    Where to start with acedia? How is that related to depression? What you’ve described is what I get for weeks on end, usually late winter and spring. Is this something like Hemingway’s “black dog?”

    Former pastor once gave a sermon series on the seven deadly sins. When he got to “sloth” it really did a number on me. There was this judgment thing in the tone of it, and I had a hard time driving home safely.

    More later I hope. Gotta go. Thanks.