There is Nothing I Can Do Against Your Coming.

Today is the winter solstice—the shortest of days, the longest of nights. The early sunsets and the cloud cover of the Pacific North West means that our Advent ‘wait for the light” is as literal as it is metaphorical. We are in the long dark, awaiting the break of dawn.

But these days are dark in other ways too. We may have lingering sadness for friends and family we won’t see this Christmas. We may feel anxious about money, grieving the loss of a loved one, or feel the ache of a failed relationship. We may be depressed and lonely. This can be a difficult season for lots of reasons. In our house, we have been battling the flu. There is no good time to be sick, but the prospect of sick kids over Christmas feels pretty awful.

Jane Kenyon was no stranger to the darkness. Like many poets, she struggled with clinical depression. Her poem Having it Out With Melancholy describes her lifelong struggle with the dark:

1 FROM THE NURSERY

When I was born, you waited 
behind a pile of linen in the nursery, 
and when we were alone, you lay down 
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on 
everything under the sun and moon 
made me sad — even the yellow 
wooden beads that slid and spun 
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude. 
You ruined my manners toward God:
“We’re here simply to wait for death; 
the pleasures of earth are overrated.”

I only appeared to belong to my mother, 
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts 
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases. 
I was already yours — the anti-urge, 
the mutilator of souls.

2 BOTTLES

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, 
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, 
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft. 
The coated ones smell sweet or have 
no smell; the powdery ones smell 
like the chemistry lab at school 
that made me hold my breath.

3 SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND

You wouldn’t be so depressed
if you really believed in God.

4 OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner 
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away 
from the massive pain in sleep’s 
frail wicker coracle.

5 ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT

Once, in my early thirties, I saw 
that I was a speck of light in the great 
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole 
human family. We were all colors — those 
who are living now, those who have died, 
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm, 
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood 
you came flying to pull me out 
of the glowing stream.
“I’ll hold you up. I never let my dear 
ones drown!” After that, I wept for days.

6IN AND OUT

The dog searches until he finds me 
upstairs, lies down with a clatter 
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing 
saves my life — in and out, in 
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . . 

7PARDON

A piece of burned meat 
wears my clothes, speaks 
in my voice, dispatches obligations 
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying 
to be stouthearted, tired 
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine 
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night 
I feel as if I had drunk six cups 
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder 
and bitterness of someone pardoned 
for a crime she did not commit 
I come back to marriage and friends, 
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back 
to my desk, books, and chair.

8CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work 
but I believe only in this moment 
of well-being. Unholy ghost, 
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet 
on the coffee table, lean back, 
and turn me into someone who can’t 
take the trouble to speak; someone 
who can’t sleep, or who does nothing 
but sleep; can’t read, or call 
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do 
against your coming. 
When I awake, I am still with thee.

9WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light 
I wake at four, 
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air 
presses through the screen 
with the wild, complex song 
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment. 
What hurt me so terribly 
all my life until this moment? 
How I love the small, swiftly 
beating heart of the bird 
singing in the great maples; 
its bright, unequivocal eye.

Married to Donald Hall (another brilliant poet!) and a dog owner, she was able to stave off the dark long enough to leave behind some great poems, full of evocative imagery and emotion. As she faced the darkness and sometimes she found the beauty in the shadow:


Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles 
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come. 


Let Evening Come

I love that last stanza: Let it come, as it will don’t be afraid. God doesn’t leave us comfortless, so let evening come.

Darkness in the guise of leukemia would claim Kenyon’s life in 1995, just as she was hitting her stride as a poet. Her last poems are wistful and sad. And yet despite the struggle and the sadness and the lingering dark, there is a thread of hope that runs through her poetry. God does not leave us comfortless so let evening come. Morning is coming soon and with it joy.

Our Redemption in Ruins: a ★★★★★ book review

What does God’s redemption look like?  God’s kingdom comes in fullness and all that is wrong is set right. But what about  in the meantime? How is the gospel hope for broken? The oppressed? The abused?  Matt Bays observes that many modern Christians have this working definition of redemption:

Redemption n.—A state of existence in which the faithful to God receive what they expect to receive out of life (and out of God), and what ails them is converted to something fresh and new. (Getting the desires of one’s heart.) (26).

135468lgBut the reality is that the faithful suffer: miscarriages, mental illness, bankruptcy, loss of jobs, doubt, grief, etc. Sometimes God doesn’t seem to come through and even the redeemed carry the scars of the past. In Finding God in the Ruins Bays opens up his own hard journey and shares this experience of hope and redemption. God didn’t remove the brokenness and the pain but stepped into it with him.

The impetus behind the book came when Becky, a cat-loving-coworker succumbed to a deep depression and committed suicide, taking too many pills and leaving a note. Bays wrote in his journal I hope they saved the pen she used—that the leftover ink inside will be used to write words of love and hope (32). At her funeral, Becky’s husband John gave Bays the pen and told him to ‘write beautiful hope-filled words’ (34). In the pages which follow, Bays weaves his own painful journey with the tales of other broken doubters and beat-down saints.

At the age of twenty-eight, Bays was several years a pastor, but the pain of his childhood caught up with him. He had been abused by the Step-Dad from Hell. Beyond the physical and emotional turmoil he experienced, he also experienced the confusion of incest.  He turned to alcohol. When it didn’t anesthetize the pain, he found a counselor and began to work through his issues. Bays also shares of his doubt and struggle watching his sister Trina fight stage-four breast cancer.

Bays story is hopeful. He experiences real healing in his life and he points to the unlikely places  God met him through broken people (i.e affirmations from a pedophile band teacher). But this is a raw account of what it means to have faith in the midst of some pretty blankety-blanked-up-stuff. Bays rages against God, talks about the ways that Jesus felt distant from him— i.e “When God was thirteen, he never faced any kind of trial” (63). Ultimately Bays experiences the grace of God through family, through learning to face his pain and share vulnerably,  learning to tell his story and seeing how much God-in-Christ truly experiences and enters into the pain and struggle we face:

God wasn’t staring on in the brothels of Mumbai; he was stuck on the dirty floor with a pedophile on top of him. And he wasn’t leaning against the laundry machine in my basement; he was being pierced, crushed, bruised and wounded so eventually I could be healed. It happened to him every time it happened to me.  It was him, the same as it was me. (197).

This is not Hallmark-Channel-Jesus. Jesus doesn’t ride into an unbeliever’s life with a saccharine sweet ending, tying off all loose ends and making it all work out. The kind of redemption that Bays points to is more personal. Jesus steps our heartaches and experiences all the horrors we do. He brings  us to redemption by going through the pain with us.

This is a great book, but emotionally heavy. At a different stage, I wouldn’t have been ready for it. Bays lie story allows him to speak empathetically to those of us who likewise struggle. I appreciate the radical honesty he advocates. Bays helps us face ourselves (all of us), face our pain, and be honest to God about our struggles. This doesn’t give our doubt the final word, but allows for real faith to grow. I give this book five stars. ★★★★★

Note: I received this book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

Hello Darkness My Old Friend: a book review

I have not personally suffered from mental illness, but I have loved ones who have. It is hard to understand their pain. In the face of their struggle, I have no words. And the church hasn’t always responded well to mentally ill people. Sometimes this is due to a mistrust of psychology for its secular underpinning. Other times, profound emotional struggle is seen as evidence for a lack of faith. The result has been a good deal of isolation of and insensitivity toward the mentally-ill. Come Lord Jesus.

9781587433726
Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by Kathryn Greene-McCreight

Kathryn Greene-McCreight wrote Darkness is My Only Companion to offer a Christian response to mental illness, especially bipolar, the Illness she herself struggles with. Greene-McCreight is associate chaplain at Yale, a priest and theological writer. Her book is part memoir, part theology and part practical advice for people personally facing mental illness or clergy offering support to those navigating these waters. This second edition has a new forward from Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and has been revised and  expanded to reflect more recent treatment and statistics than the 2005 edition, and to answer questions  readers had of the original edition. Continue reading Hello Darkness My Old Friend: a book review

Turn that Frown Upside Down: a book review

Nobody wants to be depressed, but millions are, and the number is rising.  By 2020  depression will be second only to heart disease, as the cause of life debillitating illness (1). Chances are if you do not suffer from depression, someone close to you has or does. Various treatments, therapies and medications abound, which help people (or promise help) who struggle under the weight of it.   While healing will look different for different people. there is hope.

Gregory Jantz,PhD., is a psychologist and founder of  the Center for Counseling and Health Resources.  In his book, Turning Your Down into Uphe avers that theres is hope for those suffering from depression. though the journey out for each will be unique.  Jantz examines the various influences which may be the root of our depression (or  a contributing factor).  These include emotional factors, environmental factors, relational influences, physical influences (like diet or exercise), and spiritual influences. By addressing these various spheres, Jantz presents a holistic approach to healing from depression and even gives a three month plan for healing.

I appreciate Jantz approach. I am not personally someone who struggles with long-term depression. I have had sorrows related to circumstance, but I remain fairly upbeat in my approach to life. I do have family members who struggle more directly than I do. I think Jantz offers some wise guidance through depression and helps strugglers pay attention to some of the latent causes of their depression.He doesn’t offer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to recovery.  In this book he challenges readers to overcome emotional issues through positive self talk and intentional gratitude. He helps readers overcome the detrimental effects of stress and advises they set limits on their use of technology.  By discussing they physical causes of depression, Jantz makes the case for appropriate self care.  He also addresses the underlying issues which affect us in family systems and relationships (including our relationship with God). These are all important aspects of conquering the effects of depression.

There was a lot of good information which I think will be helpful. Each chapter has a workbook section which helps readers work towards their own healing.   Jantz does not discuss in-depth the role of psychotropic medication in healing depression.  I think that most of what he says will be helpful to depressed people in general, but some may require a pharmaceutical boost in order to work through the issues.  I wished that he discussed this more directly, though I appreciate that his section on physical causes allows for a more natural approach.  I just think some people need something stronger.

I give this book four stars and recommend it to those who are wondering if they are depressed or who deal with mild depression.  Even non-strugglers like myself will be challenged to handle their emotions, set healthy limits and avoid unhealthy environments and foods.

Thank you to WaterBrook Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

I See a Bad Mood Arisin’: a book review

Depression and Bipolar are serious ailments and in recent years diagnoses have sky rocketed. However many who have been diagnosed are not getting better. Worse sometimes the placebo is more effective in treating depression than the routine prescribed medications.  What are we to make of this? What hope do those suffering with depression and bipolar have? Charles D. Hodges, M.D. likens it to the hemorrhaging woman  in the Gospels who had sought medical attention for twelve years. While the medical profession failed her she found healing when she touched the fringe of Jesus’ cloak (Luke 8:34-44). Hodges argues that the modern medical profession has failed those suffering with mood disorders but that there is hope in Christ.

Good Mood Bad Mood: Help and Hope for Depression and Bipolar Disorder by Charles D. Hodges M.D.

In Good Mood Bad Mood: Help and Hope For Depression and Bipolar  Hodges  advocates Biblical Counseling. The Biblical Counseling movement has been skeptical about secular psychology (or at the very least offers a chastened view of it). But Hodges is also a doctor and cites some startling studies about  how ineffective and wrong-headed many of the diagnoses are. He also offers anecdotal evidence from suffering patients and others who have struggled under a misdiagnosis.  Honestly, I do not wholeheartedly share Hodges skepticism but he does make several salient points:

  • The DSM-III (and subsequent editions but Hodges cites the third edition throughout this book) provides a professional opinion which is subjectively applied to the patient. 
  • Sometimes the criteria in the DSM is not even followed in making a diagnosis (i.e. a diagnosis of bipolar II may be given to a patient who has never had a hypomanic episodes).
  • There is no scientific way of measuring Depression or Bipolar Disorder and there is no identifiable pathology (making all treatement subjective rather than objective).
  • Medication is used to confirm diagnosis (if it work you must of been depressed).
  • Medication and other treatments for Depression and Bipolar are often ineffective and do not produce desired results. Sometimes the side effects are worse than the disease.
  • Many of  those diagnosed with Depression are actually just experiencing legitimate sadness over a loss.

Hodges allows that some people benefit from medication and that sometimes the diagnosis is correct; however his fundamental approach is lead people to an encounter with Christ and the hope he offers in His Word.  As someone with a Masters of Divinity, the only counseling I am competent to offer is biblical counseling. I agree with Hodges that the Bible speaks to the depth of human experience and will be a beacon for those under the cover of the darkness of depression. I appreciate his insights and his sharing examples from his own counseling with others.

Nevertheless I had concerns that this book would cause some who shouldn’t to second guess their diagnosis and treatment. I agree with him that the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of treatment from medication alone  is troubling; however he never addresses that the greatest successes in treatment of Depression come from those who combine medication with therapy. Biblical counseling can be used effectively in concert with medication. All healing is God’s healing.

I have friends and loved ones who suffer from depression and am grateful that they know a God who is close to the brokenhearted. Hodges is a worthwhile read for those wanting to see how God brings hope to the hurting.  I give this book three stars: ★★★☆☆

Thank you to Crossfocused Reviews and Shepherd Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.