Kathleen Norris: Silence, Acedia, and Pandemic (Part One)

Our returning guest Kathleen Norris is the award-winning poet, writer, and author of The New York Times bestsellers The Cloister Walk, Acedia and Me, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Amazing Grace, and The Virgin of Bennington. She’s also published seven books of poetry, her first being the 1971 Big Table Younger Poets award-winning Falling Off.

Kathleen’s work explores the spiritual life with an intimate and historical perspective. Cassidy notes, “Her book Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life accompanied me in the most beautiful ways a book ever has and truly changed my life—and it remains among my top 3 favorite books alongside Thomas Merton and Mary Oliver. I wept through the book feeling more understood and clear-headed about my own spiritual journey than ever before.”

This is part one of a two-part interview. Click here to listen to part two.

Amid the pandemic Kathleen shared some recent work on the National Catholic Reporter, offering tips for coping with acedia amid this time of slowing down and staying in. She writes, “I recognize acedia when it does turn up. Being forced to stay still is a breeding ground….It’s the feeling of being totally bored and totally restless. It’s a horrible combination… It isn’t just depression. It isn’t just boredom. It’s a lot of things.”

Acedia is a bad thought, it’s a passion that is opportunistic, just like this virus. It will strike just when we’re at a low point, our immune system is down, because we’re feeling anxious and tired and restless and bored and sad about how things used to be — and all of those things are classic signs of acedia. — Kathleen Norris

Widowed in 2003, Kathleen is no stranger to living alone. She now divides her time between South Dakota and Honolulu, Hawaii.

Silence sometimes shows you what you’re really suffering from… just to sit there and let the silence sink in, and often that’s when you discover what it is you’re really worried about, what you’re really suffering from, what your real concerns are, because when you’re busy in the world either with activity or a lot of verbal stuff going on, you’re ignoring some of those deeper things, and sitting in silence for a while, it will start to surface. — Kathleen Norris

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

The opposite of acedia is love. So that if you can work your way through acedia, stagger through all of those bad thoughts that are telling you that nothing matters, and reconnect with other people, realizing who you love and doing what love requires … that is one way we can fight our way through acedia. — Kathleen Norris

Episode 99: Silence, Acedia and Pandemic: A Conversation with Kathleen Norris (Part One)
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Kevin Johnson, Carl McColman
Guest: Kathleen Norris
Date Recorded: April 27, 2020

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Carl McColman
Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.