The desert monks committed huge portions of Scripture to memory, not only putting us moderns to shame but also reminding us of the potency of a simple life. One reason for putting so much Scripture to memory was to learn to “redirect” thoughts. That is, to ward off temptations. This is the subject of the sixth chp of Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life
This is why the monks put so much of Scripture — the Psalms and Gospels — to memory. Not only do they put us to shame when it comes to memorization, they point us to the power of a simple life lived in the rhythm of the biblical Story. Once Norris was visiting her husband in a hospital when she had to walk through some frigidly cold weather and her thoughts turned to cursing the temperature only to remember words from the liturgy from Daniel about blessing God in the cold and winter.
This is about learning to redirect our thoughts. If you think about this much you will think about the image of God and humans … and two things: that we are made in God’s image but that it takes time — far too long at times — to live up to our image.
The monks know this and that means that monasteries are not afraid of therapeutic help from both drugs and therapists. But Norris tells the story, I should say she warns us, of a college that released its chaplain because it had therapists on campus. Therapeutics and pastoring are not the same.
Norris learned what prayer was from the monks: “warfare to the last breath” (from Abba Agathon). She reflects on how she is both introvert and extrovert, liking both public crowds and the monastery. She’s learned also to live with her ups and downs.
Here’s a sane comment: “This up-and-down, unsteadfast person is who I am; this is the devil I know” (97). Depressed folks, she observes, have a more realistic view of the world. Depression is a teacher. The struggle is worth it, she claims.
In this chp she tells the story of her husband, David, and his health struggles.