Monday, March 10, 2008

In the darkness

God, is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
To be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you're there!
If I go underground, you're there!
If I flew on morning's wings
to the far western horizon,
You'd find me in a minute--
you're already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I'm immersed in the light!"
It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.

--Psalm 139, vs. 7-12,
translated by Eugene Peterson in The Message

I've had two conversations in as many days with dear ones deep in despair. The triggers are different, but the root cause is the same: depression.

Damned depression. How I'd love to wipe out that disease. It drifts over competent, wonderful people like a toxic a dementor, in J.K. Rowling parlance (see above), and hisses in their ears (these bright, talented, loving people) that they are worthless and alone, and that it will never be any different for them. That their best efforts are simply not good enough. That no one will ever really love them. That they are powerless to change this. And, for good measure, that they'd better not bother anyone else with their problems, thereby reinforcing the "you're all alone" message. Damn and double damn.

That is the way, it seems to me, that evil works, too. Divide and conquer. Keep us off balance and alone and aching for relief and connection, and believing that we don't deserve goodness and life and love.

Do we deserve goodness? It's a fascinating question, actually-- and I mean fascinating in the sense of being gripped by a question with no answer, being held in thrall because you can't resist.

I can really only speak for myself here. On my best days, I still mess up countless times. I'm selfish, I'm an idolater and a liar and something of a glutton (at least where chocolate and my carbon footprint are concerned). I don't do particularly well at Sabbath-keeping, and what I don't know is a lot. For every flower I water, I've tromped on countless blades of grass to get there. But I'm also loving and funny and gifted and mostly well- intentioned, and willing to take seriously my relationships with God and my neighbors, to live deeply, and to try to find joy and share it.

In other words, I'm human...broken and beloved in the sight of God, here by God's good grace, cared for by the grace of other broken, beloved beings.

Do I deserve the goodness in my life? I think that's the wrong question--a distraction from the sheer gift we've been given. I try hard to participate in it, and to stay open to the beauty and pain that each day brings. Some days it works, some not so well, but always, is a gift.

It's pretty hard to keep track of that with a dementor hissing in your ear, though. You can ask Harry Potter if you have any doubt.

And if it's a matter of deserving goodness, aren't we sort of done before we start? Part of our American "consumer" consciousness is driven by the idea of getting what we "deserve" to have, but holy cats--what if that actually happened? I submit that a tally of our respective successes and failures as a basis for participation in God's purpose would be a disaster for every one of us.

Besides, that's not where Jesus would land: Jesus who hung out with the rabble, who chose ordinary dopes like me as his disciples and who died for us. That alone makes me and you and each of us a pearl bought at a great price.

So please don't talk to me about what we deserve and don't deserve. That's been asked and answered on the cross. We do the best that we can to be part of the Great Song of sing our part with beauty and intention, and to acknowledge that some days, the song starts as a wail. Especially at times of death...and at times of new life just being born.

I love my friends. I salute their courage in dealing with this sometimes-overwhelming feeling of despair. I know that brain chemistry is a crucial, world-altering factor here. And please, friends, please hear me when I say that you are not alone. Keep trying, keep working the treatment questions, and keep reaching for a hand to hold, no matter what. There are lots of us who will reach back, hold on, sit with you until the darkness passes, and give you a piece of chocolate, such as we have. And, darkness or light, God is there, can see you clearly, (even when you can't see or feel God), and loves you more than you can possibly imagine.

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