Acadia in Advent
How are you feeling at the moment?
A while back I came across a blog where the writer, Jonathan Zecher, tries to give a name to the emotion we are all experiencing at the moment. It is in this search for meaning that he reintroduces the emotion of “acedia.”
According to Zecher acedia is an ancient term that “describes the paradoxical combination of jangling nerves and vague lack of purpose many of us are feeling now.”
In other words, he says, it is that all too familiar experience of getting distracted by social media when we actually have a pile of books to read or where we want to go outside, but somehow never find the time to do so. This leaves us, he continues, “bored listless, afraid and uncertain.”
The emotion acedia is an ancient Greek emotion that was tied directly to “the special and social constrictions that a solitary monastic life necessitates.” This emotion and the language of acedia helps us in two very important ways, he says.
Firstly, it helps us to understand our state of boredom and listlessness and helps us distinguish between that and more serious diagnoses like depression and anxiety. In this sense, words create worlds, and identifying what we are feeling might help us to deal with our world as it is. But more importantly, Zecher says, it helps us to know that other people are going through the same things.
In this, identifying new and more complex emotions helps us to “an emotional repertoire” which, in turn, helps us with emotional regulation.
So where does this leave us?
Speaking from my own experience, I have to admit that acedia caught up with me too. Indeed, I also feel bored, as if meaning disappeared from my daily activities and as if I, too, get caught in a cycle of procrastination. This long year, with its many ups and downs, left me in a state where I am also saying “let’s just get this over with.”
But perhaps this year, and because of a communal emotional repertoire, we can hear the message of advent in new ways. In a sense, advent is nothing more than eagerly expecting God to come through for us in our weakness and loneliness. It is that deep longing that things need to change and that, in our power, we cannot change it.
When we acknowledge acedia in our community it also puts us in touch with those who go through these experiences daily and for years on end. Indeed, it makes us more empathetic and put us in a position to cry out with the whole creation: “o come; o come, Emmanuel!”
Moreover, our feeling of acedia is a reminder that we should be kinder with one another in this time, that we should listen deeper and without judgment, and that we should speak softer and with more grace.
May you, during advent time, live yourself into the shoes of others, and may we, as a community, cry out together knowing that we cannot fix things by our own strength.
Questions to consider:
1. At the end of this year, what emotions are prevalent in your daily life?
2. How can you become more aware of others and be more considerate of their emotions?
3. In what meaningful ways would you like to celebrate the coming of Christ?
4. What does Christ’s birth mean for you during this time?
5. What do you want for Christmas and what do you think others want?
6. Read the poem below and meditate on it for the week to come.
(On a theme by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Look how long
the tired world waited,
locked in its lonely cell,
guilty as a prisoner.
As you can imagine,
it sang and whistled in the dark.
It hoped. It paced and puttered about,
tidying its little piles of inconsequence.
It wept from the weight of ennui
draped like shackles on its wrists.
It raged and wailed against the walls
of its own plight.
But there was nothing
the world could do
to find its freedom.
The door was shut tight.
It could only be opened
from the outside.
Who could believe the latch
would be turned by the flower
of a newborn hand?
That's all for this week
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