Light Notes: Now may be the time to revive this ancient term

Timothy J. Ledbetter, Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.) on

Published in Religious News

The practice of diagnosis, or “full knowing,” is important in medicine and other disciplines, including mental, emotional, social, and spiritual care and treatment.

We want and need to accurately know the issue or problem before we can accurately prescribe. For example, pancreatitis (inflammation) is different than pancreatic cancer (malignancy).

Here, I address a different sort of inflammation.

To no one’s surprise, our minds, emotions and spirits have been sorely inflamed and irritated by the pandemic’s fears and restrictions. Over the seemingly endless months, we have become bored, listless, afraid, cranky and uncertain. These are some of the symptoms, but what might be a diagnosis? Acedia.

Say what?

Jonathan L. Zecher writes in The Conversation ( “This ancient Greek word that so aptly describes our current state was lost to time and translation. John Cassian, a monk and theologian wrote in the early 5th century about an ancient Greek emotion called acedia (a-SEE-dee-a or a-KEE-dee-a). An isolated monk’s mind ‘seized’ by this emotion is ‘horrified at where he is, disgusted with his room … , (acedia) does not allow him to stay still in his cell.’”

“Cassian describes ‘such bodily listlessness and yawning hunger as though he were worn by a long journey or a prolonged fast. Next, he glances about and sighs that no one is coming to see him. Constantly in and out of his cell, he looks at the sun as if it were too slow in setting.’”

Etymologically, acedia joins the negative prefix “a” to the Greek noun kēdos for care, concern, or grief; thus, referring to feeling without care, concern or grief.

Perhaps you just don’t care as much about things anymore. Even when stirred up by politics or sports or a sunny day, all too quickly you may return to pacing “in and out of your cell ... .” This sounds eerily familiar in 2021.


When asked about coping, managing or making sense of our yearlong virtual or literal confinements, I have also used another more common word: “grinding.” Endurance athletes know about grinding out the last part of the race.

In an article written some years ago, I recalled running with my daughter up a long, withering hill during the latter miles of a marathon. As our breathing labored and pace slowed, we did not want or need to share encouraging words or inspirational quotes. No energy.

What we needed was simple presence or accompaniment — to run together for a little while — until we crested the hill and she proceeded on, grinding out each step by determined step toward the finish line while I peeled off, my mission accomplished.

Can we minimize acedia’s inflammation and avoid its malignancy?

Watching for moments to come alongside another might be a way to sustain our common grind as many of us have received vaccines while continuing to practice socially responsible hygiene.

One prescription for grinding through acedia-inducing times is to go for a walk outdoors with a bottle of water and a trusted companion (6 feet away), whether human, canine or divine.

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