Amma Syncletica said: There is grief that is useful, and there is a grief that is destructive. The first sort consists in weeping over one’s own faults and weeping over the weakness of one’s neighbors, in order not to lose one’s purpose, and attach oneself to the perfect good. But there is also a grief that comes from the enemy, full of mockery, which some call accidie. This spirit must be cast out, mainly by prayer and psalmody.—THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS AND MOTHERS
This can’t just be SAD (seasonal affective disorder). I’ve had this glum feeling for most of this year. And most of the past few years.
I did an online test at BeyondBlue at work the yesterday given that there has been a recent initiative at work to get staff thinking about their own mental health and how it affects their physical health. Being honest about my answers, I ended up with a 6. Anything over a 5 indicates that one is likely to have a depressive illness.
Score one to my demon; acedia.
I’ve written about acedia before. It’s back in my life. And no matter how much I want to believe that it is not there, I can’t.
I am re-reading Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk (‘TCW’) again and this morning on the train, her chapter on acedia rocked me to the core yet again. While I am at work, this spirit at times leaves me for a bit so I can actually be fairly functional. But at other times (usually on my lunch breaks), my inner being remains in a state of turmoil. Kathleen Norris sums up this entire feeling perfectly:
Severe lethargy has set in, what the desert monks might have called “acedia” or “listlessness,” and in the Middle Ages was considered sloth, but these days is most often termed “depression.” I had thought that I was merely tired and in need of rest at year’s end, but it drags on, becoming the death-in-life that I know all too well, when my capacity for joy shrivels up and, like drought-stricken grass, I die down to the roots to wait it out. The simplest acts demand a herculean effort, the pleasure I normally take in people and the world itself is lost to me. I can be with people I love, and know that I love them, but feel nothing at all. I am observing my life more than living it.
I recognize in all of this the siege of what the desert monks termed the “noonday demon.” It suggests that whatever I’m doing, indeed my entire life of “doings,” is not only meaningless but utterly useless. This plunge in to the chill waters of pure realism is incapacitating, and the demon likes me this way. … It mocks the ritual, routines, and work that normally fill my day; why do them, why do anything at all, it says, in the face of so vast an emptiness. Worst of all, even though I know that the ancient remedies—prayer, psalmody, scripture reading—would help to pull me out of the morass, I find myself incapable of acting on this knowledge. The exhaustion that I’m convinced lies behind most suicides finds its seed in acedia; the rhythms of daily life, and of the universe itself, the everyday glory of sunrise and sunset and all the “present moments” in between seem a disgusting repetition that stretches on forever. It would be all too easy to feel that one wants no part of it any more.
Amma Syncletica and Kathleen are right, but yet I find myself “incapable of acting on this knowledge” that I need to turn to Scripture, prayer and psalmody. It’s frustrating though at times I find myself recalling words that I have often said in the introits/invitatories to the offices:
In you, O LORD , I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Free me from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
redeem me, O LORD , the God of truth.
— Psalm 31:1-5 NIV
God if you can hear me out all right
Please take these feelings for her inside
My chest hurts when I breathe tonight
It’s wasting me away
(You’re wasting me away)
They’re wasting me away
—Anberlin – Amsterdam
Dad & I had a long talk on Sunday night; that extended up until midnight from about 10pm-ish after getting home from Uncle Keong’s place for that LCEC dinner with Bishop Chiew (otherwise inadvertently dubbed “PikaChiew” at MNBS by RL). On a topic that he loves to talk about and I hate—whether or not I have my eye on any young ladies at church or elsewhere—and for the first time, we had a full and frank discussion about it (surely the Spirit must have been moving that night).
We discussed over some young ladies that I have been observing; and he also—I know that he as a father wants me to find a woman that not only complements me but also will be someone who I can get along with and that both families can get along with. My hand (dang cards/poker terminology) was laid out for him about the very few that have caught my eye along with any reservations about any potential relationship that could develop while he listened and for the first time in ages, the two of us actually understood each other and were in general agreement. The one that has still managed to keep my interest worries me though. Not so much about between me and her, but whether or not her family and mine will get along (both immediate and extended)…
The toughest part was telling Dad that while this is that “season of being single” in my life (to borrow a way of expression the writer of Ecclesiastes used), it has been incredibly frustrating, while paradoxically being joyous simultaneously, to see other people finding someone while I just seem to have a hex around me with a placard hanging in front of me that reads “STAY AWAY ALL WOMEN, THIS GUY IS A LOSER!”Like that gregarious thirty-something monk that Kathleen Norris quotes in TCW, most mornings I wake up with wondering with an overwhelming sense of both expectancy and sadness whether I’ll wake up lonely every morning for the rest of my life.
But in this season, there exists an opportunity for me to put into practice one of the most well-known aspects of monastic life: celibacy. I know that I suck at this. At times, depressive moods like I am having now swing me almost to the point where I just feel like having a fling with some relatively good looking lass that I may meet one afternoon at a pub in the city. I hope and pray it never gets to that level because if it does, that’ll be the day when I’m on some sort of medication & on therapy for my depression then.
I need help, that originates from above but requires me to take active steps in my thinking, to be celibate not only in the physical sense but also in the mental sense. To reject the consumerist notions of sexuality that pervade society today which sadly reduce a woman to the sum of her parts and encourage men to possess her, not so much physically but within the confines of their mind.
God, I need help tonight and every night. Take these feelings I have inside and allow me to process them properly (accepting that falling in love and the processing of infatuation is a necessary part of celibacy) rather than going down the path that society dictates to me that I must follow. The emotional roller coaster inside pains this chest and soul of mine, but Lord don’t let me waste away. Dear Lord, don’t let me waste away…
+ bf 2305hrs