Exquisite Blandness and Acedia

Congratulations to the inaugural group of oblate-candidates on reaching the mid-point of the year of candidacy!

As happens in the monastic novitiate, so too, I suspect, does it occur for oblate-candidates: the novelty of ordering one’s life according to the Rule wears off, and one confronts the sameness of daily praying the Office, reciting the same Psalms again and again, etc., etc. The temptation is to tread the metaphorical pavement in what T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” refers to as a “dead patrol.”

The word the monastic tradition gives us for this state of affairs is acedia.  It’s a word nearly impossible to translate.  I’ve never seen the term “spiritual torpor” used as a possible definition, but in the midsummer heat, this term might be an apt expression that can join the other English terms that help fill out the meaning of the word acedia.  For further thoughts on acedia, I recommend following these links: an essay on acedia as spiritual weariness and one on balance in the Rule as a means of addressing acedia.

The idea in the latter essay of “keeping alive the ideal, but lovingly embracing the real” is one I find helpful. Given my love of paradoxes (and, I confess, a rather wry sense of humor), I tend to translate this into the notion of regarding the monastic life as exquisite blandness.  I.e., it’s in the bland and the ordinary that one encounters the exquisite.  Usually by perseverance, by waiting, by faithfully keeping vigil, the bland becomes transformed into something exquisite.  To take from “Little Gidding” again, since poetic periphrasis gets closer to the truth of this than prose, the monastic life is a matter of sameness that means “You are not here to verify, / Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity / Or carry report. You are here to kneel / Where prayer has been valid” so as to be open to “the intersection of the timeless moment.”

(The photo was taken in July 2012 from a hill to the north of St. John’s Abbey.)

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