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Thoughts Matter, Chapter 7, “About Acedia,” by Mary Margaret Funk

by davesandel on May 7th, 2018

Thoughts Matter, Chapter 7, “About Acedia”

by Mary Margaret Funk


Acedia is weariness of the soul. –p. 93

It is identified as laziness of the body or sloth of the mind, rather than the disease of the soul that it really is. – p. 93

Acedia goes so far as to FORCE a person to refuse the joy that comes from God.

Cassian: It is not the mind or body, but the soul that is sick, weary of doing good, of doing anything. – p. 94

Even death just happens. The tragedy is that, under the influence of acedia, I could die while I am not really living. – p. 95

What to do: work with your hands and be present to the work. Expel the desire to sleep excessively. Reverse all tendencies that come from the thought: avoid idleness, restlessness, indolence, distracted visits with others. Avoid one(s) with the same affliction. Beware of those who eat bread in great quantities (!). Abound in charity. Be quiet. Work honestly for those who are in need. Create a rhythm for manual labor and pious reading/prayer. – pp. 97-99

Interior work is much more demanding than physical or social work. No validation comes from the outside. – p. 99

Benefits of overcoming the “thought of acedia”:

  1. Purifying my motivation: doing spiritual practices for the right reasons rather than for subtle self gain.
  2. Manual labor itself becomes a spiritual practice. Monastics would say that manual labor breaks through consciousness, gives one initial distance from spiritual practices, frees the mind from thinking, so that unthinking can occur. The mind clears and becomes pure. Manual labor done mindfully is wonderful for redirecting motivation … I am mindful only insofar as I am not mindful of anything in particular. The more I can refrain from particular thoughts, the more my other layers of consciousness surface. – pp. 99-101

Taciturnity is a technical term from antiquity. It means to refrain from speaking for the sake of the work going on in one’s interior life: refrain from saying even good things to good people. Think twice before speaking. – p. 101

When I’m not supposed to have an opinion on everyone and everything, the mind slowly learns to rest, receive, observe and listen (what she means earlier by “other layers of consciousness”). – p. 101

Work is a back door to pure prayer. – p. 101

Cassian: “To be mindful is a safe harbor; a ship is anchored, the water stilled.” – p. 102

What kind of work should be done by a serious seeker?

Do the interior work of patience and humility.

Refresh pilgrims by hospitality, or visit prisoners.

Remember to give to the poor who suffer from famine and barrenness; offer reasonable and true sacrifice. Focus on those who cannot give in return rather than family and friends.

Charity, to be pure, must be produced by our own toil.

The meaning of true leisure emerges. Leisure is not the same as idleness. Prayer and work return without the drag of negative attitudes toward work. Leisure in manual labor, study and prayer is possible for the first time. – pp. 102-103

What does Cassian means when he tells us to “stay in my cell?” What and where is a cell for a lay person?

The most important ascetic practice is solitude itself, and “sitting alone” in the silence of one’s personal space for being alone before God. Here are seven functions of a contemplative’s “cell”:

  1. Here is the place to memorize psalms, scripture and other sacred texts. As you do this the walls of your space talk to you when you are deliberating, sorting your thoughts.
  2. Here is the place to practice recollection (defined as the prayer of simplicity, in which the soul gathers its various faculties to concentrate the mind and will on God), lectio divina, centering prayer, sitting meditation. It is the place to practice rest and refrain from working. The deliberately simple design of a cell reduces the need to straighten it, clean it, over-work in that maintenance.
  3. Here is a place for listening, as the nervous system shifts into a lower gear. As rest happens, a deeper listening from the heart is restored, and daily, weekly and seasonal cycles begin to matter again.
  4. Here is a place of truth about my “things.” I can notice my thoughts about how much I have and how much less I need. I also notice my thoughts come and go, thereby experiencing that I am not my thoughts.
  5. Here is a personal sanctuary, a safe place which holds me and moves me toward my commitments, even when I feel no zeal.
  6. Here I can remember daily that time is fleeting. I will soon die. There is no running from this in my cell, no running later from my death.
  7. Here I can sleep, surrender, and experience the night. Sleeping and waking governs one’s day. For spiritual practitioners, the cell is a sacred space for working out this wholehearted pursuit.

My cell is a place to cry, alone and for reasons of the heart that I don’t have to explain to anyone else. – pp. 105-106

Acedia creates a dried-up soul. Tears soften us and prepare us to begin again, as if in our first fervor. – pp. 106-107

In “compunction of heart,” I am conscious of great distance from God and feel sorrow, tenderness, and joy springing from sincere repentance. Unlike the effects of acedia, compunction is a felt experience of being struck down, pierced to the heart. – p. 107

Compunction is a burning state, like being in love. I feel a heightened relationship with God that seems not have moods or periods of doubt. – p. 107

Compunction draws us closer to God through remorse, not hiding in shame or guilt. Remorse purifies. We realize that separation, wrongdoing, lazy thinking and sluggish heart keep us from approaching the object of our love. And God calls, beacons, and attracts the seeker with major consolations. – pp. 107-108

True sorrow and consent to God’s forgiveness cancel all negative attachment to guilt. Through faith we let go of the event and its memory. Once again, in an instant, we enjoy a relationship of favor with God. – p. 108

If feelings of dejection linger, they are only thoughts. If attachment to negative feelings dominate, this is not compunction; it is lack of faith in God’s great goodness. – p. 108

Christ asks us to put our head on his heart and let him carry our burdens. This news is so good that we have a hard time enjoying it! – p. 108

Of course compunction is often accompanied by tears. These tears come at night, at daybreak, at prayer, at work, and during stillness. – p. 108

But compunction is not something to “get over,” like depression. Compunction is the awakening of a dead heart. There is no sadness in the “gift of tears,” only gratefulness for being forgiven, being alive, being in relationship with God. This is a wholesome sorrow. – p. 108

When we experience the gift of tears, we can refrain from analysis of childhood, significant relationships, traumatic episodes. The past does not exist and never did. When tears come, let them flow unaccompanied by commentary. – p. 109

Tears are the language of the soul, while words are the language of the mind. When I am silently crying in my heart, I take more time for silence, prayer and vigils (intentionally staying awake when I would otherwise be asleep to “watch and pray”). – p. 109

When tears come, I breathe deeply and rest. I know I am swimming in a hallowed stream where many have gone before. I AM NOT ALONE, CRAZY, OR HAVING A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. This is sweet sorrow. My heart is at work. My soul is awake. – p. 109

If I fail to move through the thoughts of food, sex, things, anger, and dejection, I may never even experience acedia, since if I am not doing soul-work I will not have any weariness of the soul. – p. 110

At the end of this chapter, Sr. Funk brings up the “states of the soul.” Pseudo-Dionysius (5th century) ( divides the states of the soul into 1) purgative (beginners giving up sin), 2) illuminative (progressing in advance of virtue) and 3) unitive (perfectly resting in God and enjoying him).

She also writes about “the second renunciation.” This is described much more thoroughly in another great book she wrote called Tools Matter. In the opening pages of this book, she says the journey of spiritual growth requires four renunciations:

  1. In the first renunciation, we transform our ordinary, external human journey into a spiritual one by a) turning away from Satan and evil and imitating Christ, and b) renouncing ways of life that lead away from the spiritual or hidden life. This is conversion from the control of our former life for the sake of a noble call. Often we surrender a good for the sake of another good.
  2. In the second renunciation, first we notice our thoughts – not just our external actions, deed or surroundings. Then we decide to let go of attachment to thoughts that controlled us before, which leads us toward what she calls “chaste thinking.” Finally, we look at our motivations and intentions.
  3. Since our thoughts come and go, but we are not our thoughts, in the third renunciation we let go even of our thoughts about God, who is “known by unknowing.” This is arrived at by an “unthinking practice of contemplation. Language is tricky; conceptual thinking is not necessary in this renunciation.” Before, our image of God was mediated through our senses and our thoughts; now our hearts “become purified and we able to see God in a spiritual way, beyond our senses.” St. John of the Cross calls this experience the dark nights of the “senses” and the “soul.” (see her book Humility Matters for more on this stage. She has also written Lectio Matters, Discernment Matters, and a spiritual memoir, Into the Depths. Her Amazon book page includes a lengthy list of what’s she’s done and where’s she’s done it, along with books, speeches, etc. Fascinating.)
  4. The fourth renunciation is seldom taught because most of us never reach this stage, and “anyone having arrived would not take about it!” We renounce our thought of “self” and merge with Christ’s own consciousness of the Father through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Pure prayer springs up since all is God.

She points out that the task of the fourth renunciation is also the first task of the first renunciation. Significant diminishment of inordinate ego is an ongoing task in all four states.

“The four renunciations are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. All ascetical practices should be modified in the light of the goal: God.”

“When talking ‘about’ anything, we are playing a trick on ourselves. We pretend that “we know,” but we only “know” from the outside. We are doing the work to seek God, but there isn’t any way to know how we are doing.

These renunciations need not be dreaded. They are really the natural life cycle of birth and death. The requirements of each renunciation are what we call a vocation. We simply follow the call of grace no matter what the obstacles.




  1. Sr. Funk says that when I can let go of my thoughts and remember to be quiet rather than speaking so often, other layers of consciousness are more accessible, like rest, receiving, observing, and listening (p. 101). What is this experience like for you?
  2. Are there moments for you when activities – manual labor or other – become “leisure” (p. 103)? Sr. Funk says this means being one with yourself, stilled in thought, no anxiety in your body, fully attentive to what you are doing.
  3. What place in your world comes closest to what Sr. Funk calls the sacred space of your “cell” (p. 105-106)? What is it like? Clean or cluttered? Quiet or noisy? A place of solitude? What do you find yourself doing there?
  4. The experience of acedia is dry, dark, dead … and then there is compunction of heart accompanied by the “gift of tears.” Bitter tears sometimes, grateful tears sometimes … how can you learn to welcome the “gift of tears” while also learning to resist the ways of acedia? (p. 107)?
  5. On p. 108 Sr. Funk says, “Christ asks us to put our head on his heart and let him carry our burdens. This news is so good that we have a hard time enjoying it.” In these moments, “the past does not exist and it never did” (p. 109). Thoughts? What is your own experience with this transcendent “sacrament” of the present moment?





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