Befriending My Depression

befriending depression (2)

 

As I meet with a new doctor she reviews my list of prescriptions.

“Do you still need this one?” she asks while pointing at my anti-depressant medication.

I take a deep breath and proceed to tell her my history with depression: “I had my first depression when I was 13 years old, the next one at age 19, another one in my mid-20s, then again when I was 40,” I said. “That last one was deeper and longer than any of the others and I started the medication.”
“Okay,” she said while nodding. “Sounds like you’re a lifer for meds.”

“Yep, probably.”

***

I’ve had this conversation with a variety of physicians, including a dermatologist who said, “You look fine to me!” To which I replied, “That’s because of the medication—it helps me not to be depressed.”

Another doctor suggested I see a therapist and I said, “I’ve done years of talk therapy and have met with four different therapists during my life. I know my depression well enough that if I need a therapist, I see one.

***

My depression is part of who I am and I am well-acquainted with it. When I notice the inner flatness I take a survey: how have I been sleeping? Do I need to increase my vitamin D and/or B12? Do I need to get out of the house and move more? And, as an Enneagram 4, am I veering toward the unhealthy attributes? If so, do I need to do a life correction and move toward the Enneagram 1? Or, is this the return of “darkness, my old friend?”

***

For decades I’ve been ashamed of my mental illness.My friends remember my depression at 19 and describe me as sitting in the corner at Bible Study with a pullover hoodie and greasy hair. I’m ashamed by that description. A few months after I began anti-depressants I wanted to stop because I was “feeling better and don’t need them anymore.” My husband wisely said, “You feel better because of the medication. You have a disease—the mental illness of depression.”

I don’t like the phrase “mental illness” because of the portrayal of people mental illness in popular culture—scary, erratic, irrational. I want to appear normal, steady, and have-it-all-together, not someone who lives with a mental illness.

***

When I first learned of the “dark night of the soul,” I wondered if that’s what I experienced. I asked one of my seminary professors and he quickly responded, “No, that’s depression, not the dark night.”

“How can you tell the difference?” I asked.

In the dark night you still function in life and you have full expression of your emotions,” he said. “With the dark night God is silent. God’s silence is leading you into a deeper or newer form of prayer.”

***

A wise friend suggested that I “befriend my depression” which seemed ridiculous to me. Nevertheless, I’ve pondered this idea and I have come to understand that to befriend my depression is to accept it as an essential part of me as much as my delight at a good joke. To befriend my depression means not disowning and heaping shame on this part of me in an attempt to appear normal. I will never be cured of my depression but medication helps me manage it. I know I will need to introduce this friend to future doctors as “my friend.”

I consider my daily pill as a gift from God. And because that pill is a gift from God it is a daily reminder of my dependency on God. I cannot make myself whole, only God can and there is the grace which allows me to befriend my depression.

befriending depression (4)

 

 

A confession based on Isaiah 6:1-8

statues--5-1-17 blog post

(in unison)

 

O God, we confess to you that we are a people of unclean lips:

we have complained aloud;

we have spoken harshly to others;

we have used sarcasm.

*

Forgive us, Merciful God.

We know that our lips reflect our hearts.

*

O God, we ask that you create us to be people of grateful hearts:

let us rejoice aloud;

let us speak kindly to others;

let us use patience.

*

Thank You Merciful God

for your patience;

for your kindness;

for your joy.

Amen.

I fret, therefore I am.

Jesus appears to Thomas - John 20:24-29John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

I can fret about anything. And fret is the best word to describe it because it’s different than worrying or fearing. It is a wringing of my hands, a low-grade thrumming that underscores my day. Sometimes I will fret over the outcome of an anticipated conversation, an appointment with a doctor, a conversation with an authority figure. And, more often than not, I am surprised by reality.

The consequences of this thrumming are that I am perpetually anxious, easily angered and begin to obsess like a hamster running on its wheel going round and round without relief. I become so tense that I unconsciously shift into brittleness and clench my hands into fists. And, because my hands are in fists, if something is offered to me I am unable to receive it.

However, when I am at peace, I feel serene, calm and my soul feels expansive with a desire to extend grace and love to those I encounter. I feel relaxed and loose, my hands are open and I can receive the good gifts that are offered to me.

In this passage from John 20, the disciples are fearful, hiding behind locked doors days after Jesus’s death and resurrection. The tension and fear in Jerusalem has spiked so the disciples are hiding, with good cause. Were they next to be executed?

And in the midst of their fearful fretting, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.”  The text tells us—in a foreshadowing of Thomas—the disciples also had to check Jesus’s wounds first. And again, Jesus said to them: “Peace be with you.”

The phrase, “Peace be with you” was a regular greeting in Israel at this time. The phrase was “Shalom” meaning wholeness, health, and completeness; to have the physical and spiritual resources to meet one’s needs. So the disciples were familiar with this expression. But Jesus meant more when he said, “Peace be with you.” In John 14:27, Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and don’t let them be afraid.

(Or, “fret not.”) Simply put, Jesus is our peace.

Then Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on to them as a gift. I imagine this as a kind of resuscitation, breathing the LIFE of the Spirit into their fretting, gasping souls.

Eight days later, with Thomas present in the group, Jesus appears among the disciples again. Rather than scolding him for his doubt, Jesus meets Thomas at his fretful, tightly wound place and says, “Peace be with you.”

And Thomas responds from the depths of his heart, “My Lord and my God.” His tight, suspicious heart opens up and he receives Jesus and Jesus’s blessing of peace.

As I ponder this passage I ask myself:

  • Where am I fretting and remaining closed to Jesus’s peace?
  • Where do I need Jesus to resuscitate and breathe peace into me?

 

A Lesson in Yielding: Kevin of Glendalough

 

Kevin of G.

 

Last fall Kevin and I participated in the The Soul’s Slow Ripening: Monastic Wisdom for Discernment pilgrimage in Ireland. We learned about St. Kevin of Glendalough, an important figure in Celtic Christianity and we were intrigued with the most famous story about St. Kevin holding a bird in his hand while he prayed.

A little background: the original Kevin is somewhat mysterious—it is challenging to know where the facts about him end and the myths begin. For instance, it is said that Kevin was born in 498 and died in 618 giving him about 120 years of life.

He lived as a hermit in a cave in Glendalough yet he attracted people and created community—his cave became the hub of a monastery.

Many of the stories about St. Kevin suggest that he had a deep relationship with the natural world. For example, one legend is that the loneliness of a hermit’s life was alleviated when “the branches and leaves of the trees sometimes sang sweet songs to him.”

Then there is the famous story of St. Kevin and the blackbird.

One day, as the story goes, Kevin was praying with his arm outstretched in his cell in the monastery. The cell was so small that his right arm had to poke out through the window. As he was praying, a blackbird came and nestled in his hand. Then the blackbird started to build a nest. When the nest was complete, the blackbird laid an egg.

Once Kevin realized that the nest and the egg were in his hand, he decided not to move until the egg had hatched and the fledgling had flown away. He didn’t want to risk breaking the egg.

One of the great things about legends is that simple stories are never that simple. This one works on several levels: a good deal of Celtic spirituality is about finding love in hard places; it is about both blood and stone. So, here we have St. Kevin, in his austere cell, undertaking something which is painful and difficult. Another level of the story is the small chick, a fragile creature for which Kevin feels great tenderness, inviting nurture and the pain that might involve. And another facet is yielding to what is emerging.

When we returned home, I ordered the Dancing Monk icon of St. Kevin (from Rabbit Room Arts) then found a small wood hand sculpture and I added a small nest with a bird. These reminders of St. Kevin have been on our home altar since October and I pass it several times a day and  I reflect on these invitations:

*I am invited to yield to what is, to what has been, and what will be.

*I am also invited to pray for the patience of St. Kevin because I sorely lack it.

*And I am invited to submit to God’s work in me, in (my) Kevin, and in our lives.

Kevin of Glendalough Dancing Monk

Seamus Heaney wrote this lovely poem:

St. Kevin and the Blackbird

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff

As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands

And lays in it and settles down to nest.

 

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked

Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked

Into the network of eternal life,

 

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand

Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks

Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.

 

*

And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,

Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?

Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

 

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?

Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?

Or has the shut-eyed blank of underneath

 

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?

Alone and mirrored clear in love’s deep river,

“To labour and not to seek reward,” he prays,

 

A prayer his body makes entirely

For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird

And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.

The Spirit Level, 1996

 

Also, Christine Valters Paintner wrote this exquisite poem here.

Questions I ponder:

  • How many times in my life do I reach out my hands for a particular purpose and something else arrives?
  • What needs to be surrendered or yielded in my life for new life to emerge?
  • What might need nurturing? Is there anything holding me back from nurture: fear of pain, fear of loss, fear of what it might cost?

 

 

Palm Sunday Audacity: Love Remains

Christ-Entering-Jerusalem-Giotto-di-Bondone

 

Palm Sunday. The day of Jesus’ brilliant subversion of the Empire—mocking both the Roman authorities and the Jewish religious authorities. Such audacity. If the disciples were anxious for Jesus before they returned to Jerusalem, I can only imagine how they felt when Jesus entered Jerusalem with all that fanfare.

Jesus wasn’t subtle on Palm Sunday. He took on the establishment—the Empire—in outlandish ways: miracles on the Sabbath, teaching in the synagogue, growing up in Nazareth, continuously challenging the religious authorities.

Then Palm Sunday. The crowd in Jerusalem asked, “Who is this man?” I’m sure the religious authorities asked that question long before Palm Sunday with increasing bewilderment to annoyance to anger to fury to planning his assassination.

The religious authorities also asked: “Who does he think he is?”

Who did Jesus think he was?

God. Showing us Love.

  • Love that continuously flows toward us.
  • Love that is beyond our comprehension.
  • Love that we receive in small amounts because receiving larger amounts is overwhelming for us.
  • Love that believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
  • Love is. Love is generous and kind, thinking the best of the Other, of wanting what is best for the Other.
  • Love is humble—not boastful or needing to elbow Others out of their place in line.
  • Love doesn’t classify who is important and who isn’t important.
  • Love doesn’t judge but honors Others.

The ways of the Empire do not work in Love. The Empire views Love as a threat and will do whatever is necessary to squelch Love. The Empire believes it has ultimate control and power (although how hard it works to maintain power reveals how slippery that power actually is). The Empire doesn’t really understand that Love is the real power—kindheartedness, gentleness, humility, modesty, generosity, yieldedness. These qualities are perceived by the Empire as weaknesses and foolishness and responds with disdain and sneers.

But Love remains. Despite all the attempts of the Empire to squelch Love, Love remains.

(For an earlier Palm Sunday reflection, here).

 

Giotto, 1266?-1337. The Entry into Jerusalem, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56140

The Story of Intimates

Jesus raises Lazarus to life - John 11:1-44

 

Lent 5–John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

***

I am intrigued with the interconnectedness of the people in this story. The friendships, the siblings, the affection and regard between the primary characters in John 11. According to The Women’s Bible Commentary (WJK, 2012-3rd ed), “This is a story about intimates … Jesus’ own future and the future of this family are inextricably linked.” (p. 523)

The passage begins with the sisters, Martha and Mary, felt free in their relationship with Jesus to send word to Jesus that Lazarus, their brother, was gravely ill. The language they used indicates the depth of friendship and affection between Jesus and the three siblings: He whom you love is ill.” The subtext here is “Your dear friend is dying and you can do something to stop his death.”

And Jesus lingers for two more days until he announces to the disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” But the disciples tell him no, not back to Judea because they knew that Jesus’ life was in danger as the religious leaders tried to stone Jesus when they were last in Jerusalem.

Jesus tells the disciples “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping.” They understood Jesus’ words literally—Lazarus was taking a nap. To them, Jesus didn’t need to risk his death for a napping Lazarus. The disciples were worried for Jesus: Why should Jesus risk his life for Lazarus if he’s only sleeping?

Then Jesus tells them: Lazarus is dead. The verse says: “Jesus spoke plainly to them.” I laughed out loud when I first read this passage last week. Often throughout the gospels the disciples are portrayed as thick-headed and a wee clueless. I imagine Jesus saying something obscure and opaque and the disciples looking at each other, “Did you understand that?”

“No, did you?”

“Me neither.”

Even if the disciples didn’t always understand Jesus they loved him and they decide to go with Jesus and die with him.

As they approach Bethany, Martha meets Jesus out of town and speaks freely from her grief. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

And Jesus asks her if she believes in him and Martha makes a beautiful statement of faith: “Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Martha returns to their house and whispers to Mary that Jesus wants to see her outside of town. Mary goes to Jesus, falls at his feet and weeps, and also tells Jesus that if he had been there Lazarus would’ve lived. Then we have a glimpse into Jesus’ emotions: He is troubled. Some translations say he was angry, others say troubled.  Jesus asks Mary to take him to Lazarus’ tomb and, again, Jesus has strong emotions. The Women’s Bible Commentary suggests in this moment is the “… the intersection of the intimate and the cosmic: the pain of this family reminds Jesus of the pain of the world.” (p. 524)

At the tomb, Jesus calls for the stone to be moved. And the wonderfully sensible and practical Martha says: He’s gonna stink—he’s been dead for four days. But she trusts Jesus and has the stone rolled away.

Jesus then prays aloud: “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that sent me.”

He then calls for Lazarus. And the text says: “The dead man came out.” Not Lazarus but the “dead man” to underscore the magnitude of this miracle. Many believed in Jesus in that day.

Nevertheless,

Jesus’ conversation with Mary and Martha transform this story from a miracle story about the raising of Lazarus into a story about the fullness of new life that is possible to all who believe in Jesus. For John, the initiative of these women sending for Jesus, their bold and robust faith, the grief and pain that they bring to Jesus, their willingness to engage Jesus in conversation about life, death, and faith, and their unfaltering love for Jesus are marks for discipleship. (ibid)

The interconnectedness of all these people model faithful discipleship for all of us.

 

*JESUS MAFA. Jesus raises Lazarus to life, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48269

What has been capturing my attention

Reading

*My friend Eric Massanari is a chaplain at a retirement center in Kansas. He recently wrote about an interaction with a resident here.

*Another friend, Rachel Miller Jacobs, is an associate professor of Christian formation at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) wrote an powerful reflection on Psalm 146 here.

*The book, The Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. You can find my review here.

*Reflections about Michael J. Sharp, a Mennonite man working in the Democratic Republic of Congo with UN and human rights violations. He was kidnapped on March 12 with his colleague, Zaida Catalan from Sweden, and their bodies were found earlier this week. From Mennonite press and from mainstream media.

 

Watching

*The “George Gently” series on Acorn. I love British mysteries!

*The Trevor Noah stand-up special on Netflix. His impression of Nelson Mandela is riveting. Warning: some language.

*The documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” about writer and activist James Baldwin. I saw this in a full movie theater where everyone was silently engaged with the film. Very powerful film and necessary viewing for everyone.

 

Pondering

*We placed this sign in our front yard about a month ago and I am pondering how I can support local refugees. I’ve been reading D.L. Mayfield’s blog and she offers many suggestions for developing friendships and supporting refugees. Also, her book Assimilate or Die is excellent and you can read my review here. (You can read the backstory about the signs here).

Glad You are Our Neighbor Sign

*Lent. I’ve been reading Paula Huston’s book, Simplifying The Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit for daily reflections. I’ve also been participating in the Lectio Divina Lent study with Abbey of the Arts.

We are quickly approaching Palm Sunday (April 8) and Easter (April 16). I am enjoying my gospel lectionary study as well. Here are my reflections for Lent 2 and Lent 4.

Celebrating

*Kevin and I celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary this weekend. This photo was taken a few years ago at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia when we celebrated his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary with Kevin’s family. I love this photo of us.Kev and June at Peggy's Cove

 

What is captivating you?