Saturday, June 27, 2009

Understanding: Depression or Acedia?

Yesterday I posted on the "crisis" of the past year. In some ways I feel quite shy about it. I have no intention of giving specifics, or describing the triggers, or speculating on what I think may be the underlying personal stuff from which the crisis grew. But I do want to say a bit more generally.

My first thought was that I had walked up to the edge of possibly a major depression. Since then I've read a book recommended by a friend: Kathleen Norris, Acedia and Me. Acedia is the sin of sloth, one of the seven deadly sins. You can check Wikipedia's definition here.

Norris suggests that one test for whether one is experiencing acedia (the lack of caring; a sort of massive indifference) or depression is to see what helps. Acedia, she suggests, is not amenable to therapeutic counselling, but does respond to spiritual care. Depression, she states, is not helped by spiritual care, but does respond to therapeutic counselling.

Some bits of what I walked through fit her description of acedia; other bits fit what I know of depression. Certainly the two, acedia and depression, mimic each other. And certainly, whichever one a person experiences, the body, mind, and soul are all involved. But my own journey as I reflect on it was a spiritual journey, not a therapeutic one (in a counselling sense). Healing there was, but healing that came through prayer and an experience of God's grace.

I have walked closely enough with clinical depression to know that it does not yield to advice from well-meaning friends to "pray more." This brush with acedia suggests that for some of us -- Kathleen Norris and I share at least this much -- acedia is a lifelong companion, and spiritual discipline is a necessary part of life lived in defiance of such torpor.

It is a good journey, and at this stage I am glad to be on it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dreams and a Voice

In some sense the six months at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 were the most difficult of my life. In objective terms I see no reason to have experienced a particular crisis. There were professional pressures of working in a tight economy. There are the personal pressures of living in one's 59th year. But many around me have had more real difficulties to deal with than I. But for whatever reason I came to the edge of some sort of crisis in February, which found the beginning of resolution in March. Lent was a season with more than usual meaning this year.

Resolution began with two dreams and with a voice in the silence. The following lines describe something of the experience -- a journey into darkness to find God's limitless love, patience, and grace. I do not yet understand what happened, or why. This record of the path through the undergrowth (of my life) to the cliff overlooking a pit, the cross beside the road, the sea, and the circle around the ashes is an effort to keep the whole in mind long enough for it to form the journey of the coming months and years.

One: The Path
The path wandered through the undergrowth,
A pathless way deeper into the darkness.
Wandering unwilling, compelled, pressed, constrained
I stumble like a sloth into the dark.
It did not seem so dark at first,
this crosspath; but as I walk on
Through under-undergrowth, the need grows
To break clear, escape
Some cataclysm, a burning.
Wandering aimless and looking for freedom
I, trapped in fear.

Relentless the pathless path wanders down
The growth of many year, shapeless fears
Forming in the darkling gloom.
So many years of growth underfoot
Obstructing, clutching, pulling.
At last I break free into a clearing
At the edge of a cliff, and find
Only darkness burning deep within the pit of myself.
A pathless path balanced on the edge of time.

Two: The Cross
Beside the road stands a cross, unheeded, unneeded.
People hurry past, hardly looking.
I stand, lending my weakness to keep the cross
From falling.
I am not needed, not heeded -- let me go!
A building close by beckons, offering safety, privacy,
A chance to slip out of the light, a place to hide.
I cannot leave.
Unnoticed, unneeded, I want only to go and change.
I promise to return ....
There is no escape,
Compelled to stay, to stand by the cross beside the road.

"I want nothing between us."
Immediate fervent assent
To live at the cross by the side of the road.

Three: The Sea
A dream
Floating in a dream
Floating in the sea.
Completely secure, endlessly rocking
Floating in the calm and stormy sea of love.

Four: A Voice in Silence
Circled around the ashes
Waiting for a sign,
We sat in silence, ritual simplicity.
My friend gave up coffee for Lent,
Waiting for a sign.
My friend gave up wheat and wine,
Waiting for a sign.
We sat in silence, ritual simplicity.
Circled round the ashes I heard (can I say "heard")
A voice in silence.
"There is no more. I have done all. Receive."
The imposition of the ashes.

To put divine encounters in words, no matter how couched in imagery, gives the impression that I think I have found more than I have. As I said, I do not understand what happened -- except to say that I became a person again when I stood on the edge of losing myself. In this life to find ourselves, however briefly, is a gift from God.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

An Even Bigger Birthday!

Four weeks ago we travelled to Pennsylvania for our son's graduation from Messiah College. My Dad has made it to all of his grandchildrens' graduations (I think). This one was easier in a way: the venue was 10 minutes from his front door. But today we see what makes it more remarkable, as he celebrates his 90th birthday.

I remember well the day that my mother died, and Dad was left alone. Eighteen years and one month ago she left us. I remember Dad saying to me of her death: "I didn't know you could hurt this bad, but I know I'm going to be okay." Over the next two years he learned to care for himself, without his lifelong companion who had helped him so much in so many ways.

I remember Dad's wedding, 16 years and two weeks ago, to Verna Mae. The have been married now longer than many much younger couples, a relationship that has grown richer as they have grown older.

And today I remember Dad. He has walked with God throughout his life -- in Zambia and Zimbabwe, in Pennsylvania and California, in Indiana and in Ontario. When we talked today he referred to some of his favourite verses from 2 Corinthians 4: 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

C.S. Lewis preached a sermon (during the second world war) called "The Weight of Glory", in which we celebrated the eternal glory that we are becoming. On his 90th birthday I celebrate seeing glimpses of that glory in my Dad's life.