Book Talk: Author Kathleen Norris find new life in "acedia"

Wed Oct 8, 2008 7:58pm EDT
 
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By Belinda Goldsmith

CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - When writer Kathleen Norris came across the word "acedia" used by a 4th century monk she knew she was onto something -- the "bad thought" identified by early Christian monks that lost out to more physical sins.

Norris, a best-selling U.S. poet and essayist, is known for her writings about Christian spirituality such as "Cloister Walk" and "Amazing Grace," and for becoming a Benedictine oblate -- a layperson living like Catholic Benedictine monks and nuns.

In her latest memoir, "Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life," she focuses on "acedia," which is a slothful, soul-weary indifference long recognized by monastics as "the noonday demon" and traces its effect throughout her life, including the years she cared for her dying husband.

Norris spoke to Reuters about her writing and language:

Q: What sparked your fascination with the word "acedia?"

A: "I found it in the writing of a 4th century monk who was a very good writer and had a lot of psychological wisdom. A number of early monks used the word because ... they would head off into the desert to flee their wealthy church and get back to the bare bone. They knew the scriptures and went out to the desert but there realized they had not left their temptations behind and could be tormented by bad thoughts."

Q: So acedia was a bad thought?

A: "Yes and I think that is a more useful term than sin as people have such a reaction to that word. Acedia, pride and anger were considered the worst of the bad thoughts because they could make a monk hate himself and his neighbors. I was fascinated by this and wondered what happened to acedia and where did it go."   Continued...

 
<p>Author Kathleen Norris poses in this undated handout. When writer Norris came across the word "acedia" used by a 4th century monk she knew she was onto something -- the "bad thought" identified by early Christian monks that lost out to more physical sins. REUTERS/Handout</p>