Wilderness Acedia

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” (Exodus 16 :9-12)

Six months into this pandemic, we are all feeling a confusing cocktail of thoughts and emotions – very few of them very positive. People seem to be grumpier and more easily irritated—or maybe that is just me. Gone are the days of joyfully trying out new recipes, Zoom happy hours, enjoying a slower pace of life. Something else seems to have set in and it is a malaise that sticks to our souls like the rainy season humidity that just will not end.

Last week, one of my clergy friends sent me a fascinating article entitled: “Acedia: The Lost Name for the Emotion We’re All Feeling Right Now” by Jonathon L. Zecher. The term acedia is an ancient word that is difficult to explain. The root word means without care, but that hints at sloth, and acedia is so much more than that. Kathleen Norris describes it as a state of restlessness, of not living in the present and seeing the future as overwhelming that leads people to a sense of unease, hopelessness, and listlessness.

This reminds of the stories of the Israelites in the wilderness. They were experiencing acedia before there was even a word to describe it. They were complaining, worrying, and ‘awfulizing’ their circumstances. They railed at their leaders for leading them into the wilderness. They raged at God for bringing them into the desolation only to abandon them there. They worried that their trek through the wilderness would never be over. In short, they knew acedia.

Reviving the language of acedia is important to our experience in a few ways. When we can acknowledge our malaise, when we begin to own it, we can make different choices. Until we can see it for what it is, there is no moving forward. I need to name my complaining, my irritability, my malaise, and offer it to God in prayer so that I do not infect everyone around me.

Second, I need to remember I am not alone. You are not alone. There is a community around us if we can reach out and connect. But more importantly, we are never alone. God has promised God’s presence throughout every moment of life. All I know is when I have turned to God in prayer, and owned my acedia, I have somehow been lifted enough to reach out to someone else, to see the beauty around me, to remember that this too shall pass.

Prayer Focus: All in the grips of acedia

Prayer: God of the pilgrimage, in these difficult days, many of us have chosen paths that have led us away from your presence. It may have been a slight detour, or it might have been a U-turn, but you call us to trust you enough to help us find a new way. Grant us the courage to acknowledge that we have been drowning in our acedia and want you to walk beside us offering a course correction. We trust you, O God, to lead us back to the journey with you. Amen.