Acedia and the Emperor of Ice Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

– Wallace Stevens

Yes, it’s about death. Sort of. But then, acedia is a kind of zombie-ish death to life, and I am wondering if I am in its grips.

Acedia. Spiritual torpor. Apathy. Depression. Zoned-out-by-burnout.

I am not prone to it. As a naturally optimistic and buoyant sorta gal, I don’t usually give in to the down-feelings, or if I do it’s because my hormones are whacking me upside the head, and it will pass in a day.

But today…today I mostly felt wiped out. Perhaps I was just feeling tired and edgy and in need of my classic comfort cuisine: Vanilla soft-serve ice cream. Preferably Carvel.

Suuuuure…my thighs needed that! Many scoops, please! Oh…I had many scoops!

I don’t “feel” worried, and yet I know that I am running a thousand “what ifs” through my mind, and they are flashing furiously by, in living color, like trains rushing past a window: What if Dad’s vision never corrects? This is not a man who can be left without the ability to drive and to hammer and to build!

What if this lump is not just the cyst I am telling everyone it is? Well…to be honest, these were working breasts and I’m starting to wonder if I will soon need to kick them out of the way as I walk, so “bad news” wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world…but it wouldn’t be pleasant, either. I mean…I’d rather not die, please, just yet.

What if my husband’s employment ends?
Not good. Not good! Let’s eat more ice cream. Stick a brownie in it!

What if Dad has a second brain event?

What if Mom is the only one there when it happens, will she have another heart attack?

How will my brothers live through that? What if Buster, who is learning to be a volunteer fire-fighter, gets hurt? What if my sleep-apnea’d elder son sleeps through next semester? What if my husband’s next business trip is the one where all of my worst nightmares come true and the plane goes down, or blows up? Or he comes home with Avian flu?

Dear Lord…can I simply reach up and pull the Big Dipper from the sky, and use it to shovel frozen, sweetened cream down my throat? I need a scoop at LEAST that big, tonight!

There is no trembling anxiety. I am not wringing my hands. I’m just finding, as I go about the day, that every scenario plays out in my imagination with startling clarity. What if my MRI this Friday shows my brain is deteriorating rapidly, that I’ll be an aphasia-ridden wretch in ten more years?

Egad. More ice cream, please. Here, let me just duck down and suck it directly from the spout.

Here is Kathleen Norris, describing acedia in her magnificent book The Cloister Walk:

“…my capacity for joy shrivels up and, like drought-stricken grass, I die down to the roots to wait it out. The simplest acts demand a herculean effort…I am observing my life more than living it.

I recognise in all of this the siege of what the desert monks termed the “noonday demon.” It suggests that whatever I’m doing, indeed my entire life of “doings,” is not only meaningless but utterly useless…Worst of all, even though I know what the ancient remedies – prayer, psalmody, scripture reading – would help to pull me out of the morass, I find myself incapable of acting on this knowledge…”

Well…when you put it that way
, perhaps I am not suffering from acedia. Prayer is still good. Psalmody is still effective, especially when it’s being chanted on a few notes.

But these are certainly tiring days, days when I find myself remembering scripture, “as a child rests in his mother’s arms, so will I rest in you” and then doing a Michael Ledeen to the Almighty: “faster, please!” Or, perhaps I should be saying, “more, please,” for consolation is there – it is available and being delivered…it simply does not seem to be enough. If God is the mother nursing me at the breast, I am the greedy suckling who cannot get near enough, or be fed enough. It is as though I have a tape-worm of the spirit, and no amount of heavenly succor will fill and satisfy this appetite.

Ice cream is no substitute for the soft nuzzle of a loving God in whom one is seeking rest.

In Bethlehem, God strode into the middle of humanity – entered in – the good Father, seeking out the meandering, stumbling, fool-headed children He loved. The Son embodied Him. The Spirit did the rest. Tonight, I think I will take all of these “what ifs” and any left over ice cream I can find and bundle them up in a sloppy, dripping, humble and woebegone bundle and ask the Holy Trinity to distribute it all amongst themselves. The Triune God can make much more sense of it all than I. And maybe when I awaken tomorrow things will seem a little better sorted-out, the nagging wrinkles might be somewhat smoothed. If I can have an understanding heart, I’ll gladly let Him have the whole of the soft-serve.

Hmmm…parables and metaphors where I did not plan them.

I want to say thank you for the comments and emails containing the promises of prayers and good wishes, and even advice – I hope you will forgive my not answering you all individually. I will, perhaps be better able to do that later in the week. Meanwhile, know that God is never outdone in generosity, whether it be of a material or spiritual nature, and all of your kindnesses will, I know, be repaid and then some.

Meantime, I am resolute. I am not going to sink into the sticky molasses of depression. And I am not going to add five more inches to my hips. I am going to pray the psalms and canticle of the hour of Compline and then sleep, trying to keep in my heart the thing of hope and wonder: childlike faith. I am going to end my prayer with the poem by Gilbert Keith Chesterton:

“Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world around me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?”

God bless us all. And thanks, friends, for your generous hearts.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://none Darrell

    No, in my prayers the fat cells are used as stem cells to provide replacements for any cell necessary. Go ahead and eat the soft-serve! Please don’t waver now! I really do sense great things.

  • fporretto

    I know the syndrome. There’s a word for it: “inanition.” Good cocktail-party word, especially among folks who think an expensive therapy addiction is something to preen about to their “friends.”

    C. S. Lewis said a few words about it in The Screwtape Letters. He was talking about advanced cases — the sort of sufferer who’ll spend the night sitting up before a cold fire in a dark room rather than stir his stumps enough to get to bed — but the roots of the thing are common. It’s the result of an attack on one’s motives, undermining which is the surest way to deaden the will and the wellsprings of joy.

    We all face it at some time or another. Hang in there. And yes, ice cream does help. There’s a brand called “Frusen Gladje” — “frozen happiness” in Danish — that’s particularly applicable.

    Be well, dear.

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  • Jeanette

    2 Corinthians 12:9
    And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

    You are being tested and Satan is throwing everything at you. Keep your eyes on Jesus and all things will turn out well.

    Romans 8:28
    And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

    IMHO you have been called according to his purpose and all things will word together for good to you and yours.

    You are always in my prayers as well as your family.

  • Fausta

    Expect the best. I’ll happen.

  • Fausta

    (make that “IT‘ll happen”)

  • Gracie

    I’ll pray “The Way Of The Cross” for you, as you have led me to it’s wonder. And I’ll also ask the Lord to bless us all!

  • stephanie

    Take a deep breath and enjoy the ice cream :-). Then go for a walk, a nice slow stroll and push your mind to all of the blessings in your life. A wonderful husband, two great kinds, a loving family- amke a thorough list. At least that helps me when I’m down in the dumps. I try and count my blessings, and think about how truly lucky I really am :-)

  • March Hare

    That kind of feeling is also known as “The Hour of the Wolf.” In the Russian culture, the Hour of the Wolf is usually around 2:00 a.m., when you get up, nervous and scared, though not quite sure why. You have a shot of vodka (if you’re Russian, Jamiesons if you’re Irish) for the wolf and then another one “for her pups.”

    Or my other favorite (mental)image is take everything that is bothering me, put it in a box, tie it up with string, and hand it to God, saying, “Here, you deal with it. I can’t right now.” :)

    For Elder Son’s apnea: have you looked into having his tonsils & adenoids out? (Assuming he’s not overweight or there’s another cause.) That seems to have worked wonders for DD#2 (she’s 12–a bit younger than your ES, but still…)

    Pace and prayers,

  • Renee

    If I could reach out and hug you I would. I understand about the ice cream…