"I once wrote an article about dragging myself to church out of a sense of family obligation, only to find myself confronted with the hymn 'There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today.' Hardly what I was feeling, and normally I would have scorned its verses as pietistic, insufficiently concerned with anything except 'Jesus & me.' But acedia had lately made my world obscenely small, and the hymn allowed me to feel alive for the first time in days. Singing it was a glad response to grace. 'I have the strength to take it all up again,' I wrote. 'This is a day to begin.' After the piece was published, I received a letter chastising me for trivializing the serious illness of depression, and for suggesting that people can snap out of it. I had done no such thing. I had described one of those common but precious awakenings of the heart that point to something greater than the self and give us hope. I stand by it.

"A coalescence of music, Scripture, and other people in a worshipping congregation had brought me to my senses. I had been dwelling in a drought-stricken land, like the famished prodigal, who, envying the pigs their husks and slop, suddenly remembers that he is a beloved child who has a home. I know that, in the words of a great hymn, 'Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,' my temperament makes me 'prone to wander from the God I love.' But if I have forgotten who I am, getting back on the road may help me remember. I am both humbled and exalted by the reception I receive when I make my move: the world itself seems to open up and accept me.

"Losing one's way and then finding it may mimic the cyclical nature of depression, but it is also part of the natural rhythm of day and night, of the waxing and waning moon, and of seeding and harvesting. However true and even beautiful this turning of times and seasons may be, I tend to resist it as a necessary aspect of the spiritual life. Monastic writers have always emphasized that maintaining a life of prayer means being willing to start over, after one has acted in a sinful or destructive way. Both pride and acedia will assert themselves, and it may appear that we are so far gone we may as well give up and not embarrass ourselves further by pretending to be anything but failures. It seems foolish to believe that the door is still open, that there is always another chance. I may accept this intellectually, but I have come to appreciate its depths only through experience. Just when I seem to have my life in balance and imagine I can remain in this happy state forever, I lose sight of the value of contemplation and prayer, and try to live without it. Soon enough, once again, I am picking myself up out of the ashes.

"The early Christian monks staked their survival on their willingness to be as God had made them, creatures of the day-to-day. They regarded repetition as essential to their salvation, and valued perseverance in prayer and manual labor as the core of their spiritual discipline. When acedia tempted them from these tasks, they were admonished to make their way back as quickly as possible. It is all a matter of falling down and standing up again, no matter how many times. Typically, the desert fathers provide a gnomic commentary on this aspect of their lives: 'Abba Moses asked Abba Sylvanus, "Can a man lay a new foundation every day?" The old man said, "If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment." ' "