The Passions: Depression and Acedia

I knew a young man several years ago in a church I served who wanted to go find himself.  His parents asked me to meet with him before he moved out to Colorado on this “finding self” mission.  After a little more than a year, he came back and we had lunch.  I asked him what he found out in Colorado.  He replied, “Only what I took with me.  But I do see myself differently now.”

I remember in the in 1993 and 1994 struggling with my call to ministry.  In the middle of seminary I just kind of lost my passion about wanting to be a minister.  It was probably coupled with working in real churches – which made me ask myself, “Do I want to pastor these people the rest of my life?”  I lost passion in my work and I floundered a bit listlessly.  A great mentor of mine said to me right before I was thinking about quitting the ministry and going to law school, “Don’t quit until you get to where God is calling you.  God called you to preach and pastor, but right now you are going through school – you are in between.  You see yourself where you are right now – student, associate, “in between” – you’ve got to get through so you can see yourself as pastor and preacher before you decide that’s not you.”

How do you see yourself?

This series is about the Passions, those terrible temptations or sins that blind us and hinder love.  Jesus, Paul and the ancient Christian teachers taught that love has space to grow within us only as each of us learns to see clearly the obsessive emotions, attitudes, desires and selfish ways of acting.  They believed once we could see them in ourselves then our work was to root out these passions.  Why do we have to identify and root out the passions?  They pervert our vision and take away our desire to love.  They blind us from seeing ourselves as we should.

Today we look very briefly at two passions: Depression, or sadness, and Acedia, or boredom.

Depression is one of the most debilitating passions of all. When we are depressed we cannot or choose not to see ourselves as beloved children of God, regardless of what we do or do not do. Our way of seeing ourselves, our lives, and our accomplishments, not to mention our way of seeing all around us, is distorted by our depression. Usually we even know our vision is distorted, but we cannot find the energy to fight against it.  Depression drains our energy, but it primarily distorts the ways we see the world and they way we see ourselves.  This is why depression is such a terrible passion.  This passion is far more sinister and deadly because it corrupts us within, isolates us – others might not even know we battle it.

Acedia is the second passion we’ll discuss today.  Pope Gregory in the 9th century combined Depression and Acedia into sloth but sloth suggests laziness, which is different from Depression or Acedia.

Acedia is a restless boredom that makes our ordinary tasks seem too dull to bear. Evagrius says it makes “the day [seem] fifty hours long.” Nothing seems right; life has lost its savor and it all seems somebody else’s fault, so that the only alternative is to leave everything and go off somewhere else.

Roberta Bondi lifts up the ancient teachings that acedia has two sources:

First, acedia often comes from one degree or another of exhaustion from too little sleep or not enough leisure. Nothing can sap an interest in life like chronic tiredness.

Second, acedia comes when we try to find meaning in life from things that do not give ultimate meaning: work, marriage, friendships, hobbies, material possessions. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.”  Poemen’s advice is, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy the heart” (Apoth., Poemen 80, p. 178).

How do you see yourself?  Do the passions of depression or acedia blind you?

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