Acedia & Me
I am a huge fan of Kathleen Norris. Along with Thich Nhat Hanh, she has helped me to re-shape my spiritual landscape over the years, and opened my eyes up to contemplative riches. Her books also helped me to get over my blockages surrounding Christianity.
Norris's humility, her unpretentious good humour and wonderfully clear and simply expressed writing make her something absolutely extraordinary in the field of spiritual writing. Very few can match her for wisdom, insight and craftsmanship.
I shamefacedly confess that in the years since her last book, The Virgin of Bennington, I have grumbled a little, saying "Why doesn't Kathleen Norris bring out a new book? Plenty of other crap people pump out a book or two a year - what's holding her up?" In this wonderful new book, she explains just exactly what she was doing in that long interval - nursing her dying husband and then coming to terms with the grief that comes after his passing.
She takes as her theme the delightfully archaic sin of acedia and explores its influence on her own life. Norris's thesis is that the contemporary world is quick to diagnose ill-feeling as depression, when in fact many suffer from acedia, which is both less serious and more insidiously destructive than clinical depression.
Acedia has always been the special weakness of intellectuals, artists, the religious and the otherwise sensitive. Indeed, over the years I have been conscious of its effect on my own life - great swathes of which have been lost to this all-consuming and tremendously wasteful sin.
Kathleen Norris could write a brilliant book about almost any subject, and she is a truly original thinker and writer. Her book Dakota is one of the most strikingly original pieces of writing I've ever encountered. But in Acedia & Me she has created a masterpiece, and a must-read for anyone who has had to deal with grief and loss and the frittering away of their own God-given talents and opportunities. This is a book I will turn to again and again, and already many of its themes have preoccupied me and caused me to pause and reflect.