I remember the first time I identified the delicious desire to disappear. I felt enticed to float away into another world where nothing was expected of me. Sirens,* born of innocent angst, sang to me from the shore. They continue to this day, luring me out of life and into the snack cupboard and one television series after another.
Withdrawing from the world and enjoying a distraction or two can be a welcome break from stress, physical pain, or repetitive thoughts. But habitually retreating from reality takes its toll.
Excessive disappearances deaden my senses and dull my hearing. I become unmoved by beauty and unaware of tastes. God’s Word bounces off me like rain on pavement. I find myself not caring about people and stuff that matters. And I don’t care that I don’t care.
It’s not depression. I made that diagnosis when I read Kathleen Norris’s Acedia & me. It’s acedia, a term used by the Desert Mothers and Fathers in the fourth century, which means “the absence of care.”
Norris writes, “The desert monks termed acedia ‘the noonday demon’ because the temptation usually struck during the heat of the day, when the monk was hungry and fatigued, and susceptible to the suggestion that his commitment to a life of prayer was not worth the effort.”
We too can suffer from the same affliction. Norris explains, “When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine: you know the pain is there, yet can’t rouse yourself to give a damn.”
Acedia preys upon us in weak moments and uses the lies and fears instilled in our childhood to undo us. The demon/Siren finally departs only after it has detached us from God and others.
If I don’t want to drift onto the rocks of apathy, I need to reattach myself to God. I must turn my back to the beguiling Sirens and ground myself, like the trees in Psalm 1. They are “planted by steams of water, that yield fruit in due season, and their leaves flourish. And in all they do, they give life.”
So for Lent I’m taking a break from Doc Martin, Chummy Noakes, and Christopher Foyle and hanging out with Jesus and his friends: real people with unscripted lives.
“Shush!” I must say to the Sirens and choose, each day, to re-enter life instead of watching it.
*In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous yet beautiful creatures, portrayed as femme fatales who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. (more)
Questions for your Lenten pilgrimage:
- What lie or fear do the Sirens use to detach you from life?
- What daily practice grounds you in God?
Thank you for this new word and concept you called ACEDIA. It identifies an energy in myself and also names a state that many of my clients experience. I like the way you differentiated it from depression.
Yes, it is a good thing to occasionally say “shush ” to the siren’s call and to name acedia.
Thank you, Esther…
Thanks, Jan. It’s tricky sometimes to figure out why we are drawn to disappear. It can be depression or grief. It can be acedia. And it could be the Holy Spirit using a dry period in our lives to detach us from our props and help us lean more into “Love Loving” (how David Fleming refers to God). A spiritual director can be very helpful in this process.
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