Monday, December 31, 2007

Because I'm back at work...

And because it feels a little like this...

A little Monty Python to go with your champagne. Happy New Year's everyone.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas, Friends

 "Eternity enters into time, and time, sanctified,
is caught up into eternity."
  - Thomas Merton

I hope you enjoy your moments this Christmas day.
Best wishes,


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Acedia: the absence of caring

I was at a book launch the other week, listening to Kathleen Norris speak on the lost meaning of Advent. She centered her talk around a long-forgotten word the desert fathers used: acedia. The word literally means "the absence of caring." Norris said the concept was originally one of the seven deadly sins, but became subsumed under the more one-dimensional word "sloth."

Acedia seems to articulate a very contemporary malady. And it is difficult to reduce to a simple "thou shalt not."

Fourth-century monks called it "the noon-day demon." It reared its ugly head in the physical and spiritual torpor brought on by long hot mid-day hours in the desert. An ancient writer explained that the noonday demon “stirs the monk also to long for different places in which he can find easily what is necessary for his life and can carry on a much less toilsome and more expedient profession." It's described as a heavy dullness of the soul that robs an individual of spiritual and physical energy. Though we think of sloth as immobility, acedia is more often related to a restlessness. It was the temptation of the monk to stop caring, to escape, to cease effort in the present and seek false solace elsewhere.

Descriptions of acedia sound a lot like post-modern descriptions of depression. Aquinas explained it as "an oppressive sorrow, which, to wit, so weighs upon man's mind, that he wants to do nothing." This is not simple laziness, Norris emphasized, but an oppression of the soul and the dimishment of life purpose. Harvard divinity professor Harvey Cox describes something similar when he describes sloth as a heaviness causing a "refusal to live up to one's essential humanity.”

For Norris, acedia is one of the current ills of Western culture. She described eloquently our collective loss of memory, of meditation, of spiritual effort. The author of an article in First Things on acedia agrees with her: "The care-free life, a life a-cedia, is our cultural ideal," R. Reno writes. While Norris rails against the sleepy comfort of commericialism, Reno attacks the "critical distance" we keep from study and faith in order to preserve rationality. He argues that we no longer engage in meaningful ways with worship and academic study, instead keeping the pursuit of truth and the joy of faith at arms' length.

The more I find about the concept, the more it seems to be elusive. It can manifest as a cultural passivity, a cold imbalanced rationalism or an individual's incapacitating despair. But it seems to put into words an invisible force of sorrow, meaninglessness and inertia in the world that we all have found ourselves struggling against at different times.

And the way out of acedia? Dante believed it was a violent, heartfelt rush to repentance and intimacy with God to awaken the soul. To rediscover the romance and power of truth. Evagrius, a fourth century writer, advocated stability and loyalty. Instead of giving way to restlessnes and rushing from the present, Evagrius believed the monk should "stand firm and patiently." Norris comes close to this with her admonition to "remember, wait and hope."

But the motivation to do so? If one waits, if one opens oneself to caring, to the possibility of caring, faith says that it must come, albeit painfully slowly sometimes. In my experience, it seems to come outside of myself.

Today, during the eucharist in a tiny church in my town, the priest looked into my eyes and said "beloved of God, the body of Christ broken for you."

Beloved. Christ broken. And I cared despite myself.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Social Relevance?

So tonight Eagleton defined a "pressing historic problem" for me, one that has been keeping me up at nights lately (or just about): " . . . the problem of the intellectual's relation to 'common humanity,' the relation between a tolerant intellectual skepticism and more taxing convictions, and the social relevance of a professionalized criticism to a crisis-ridden society."

Apparently this was of keen interest to lit theorists in the 20's and 30's. And to a rather common English major deciding on a thesis in October of 2007.

What do you think? Is it relevant? Important? If one could choose between raising money for a good cause and dissecting the meaning of "semiotics" in Julia Kristeva's criticism, is one more worthy than the other?

I used to have a long line of thought that led me to believe both were equal, but I've lost the end.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Of nights, solitude, and warmth

My roommate is the type of woman who exudes warmth. It's in her huge, perfect, brown eyes. There's a certain know the type of people I mean. So when she comes home at night, I breath easier having a little glow moving about, inhabiting the house.

Community versus solitude has been on my mind of late. Both are necessary, the question is how to balance, how to synthesize, how to seek out, when to branch out alone, how to build. Anyone have insight on this? Or more questions?

And on a completely unrelated note...

Tonight in This Town

This night goes in circles
(moon about town,
drops into puddles,
globes – the tail-lights).
The thing about circles
is they elude you
(‘round ferment of graveyards
hugging the church,
rolls the river)
– like the drop
sliding away from you
(stones slipping from shore),
like confusion
(tracks through mud),
it brings you back
(bells swinging in towers)
to yourself.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Neice and the north...

I'm off to celebrate Thanksgiving in the land of frigid Octobers, with this darling,

I think I'll like being an aunt.
I'll be back next week, friends!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Recipe for a rainy afternoon...

Basia Bulat's "December"
Artichoke pizza & pints with friends
Red candles
Ponderance of over-priced grad programs
Blog discovery: check out Noelle's

And, under the pretense of thesis prep, rediscovering Merton:

"There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Intergrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturans. There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility. This is at once my own being, my own nature, and the Gift of my Creator's Thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia, speaking as my sister, Wisdom."

- Hagia Sophia, Dawn. The Hour of Lauds.