I remember it vividly.
Sitting, in front of an Dr with a string of letters behind her name in the doctors surgery in Cambridge. One that almost every student attended. This wasn’t an ordinary appointment, more a ‘help the waves are over my head and I’m bubbling as I choke on the water screaming’ kind of appointment…
I went to see the doctor about my mood, the fact that I wasn’t sleeping, not really interested in eating, and quite frankly couldn’t be asked to do anything…even taking a piss was an effort…no, seriously.
I sat there, as the wizadora looking medical professional unprofessionally looked bewildered at me, as though I’d spoken in the language of R2D2…
“Is there anything you enjoy?” Yes, I said…music….right, well then it can’t be that serious.
“Have you ever considered harming yourself, or had thoughts about ending your life?”
I knew what the answer was, but how could I be honest? The Christian guilt weighed heavily on me….a seminarian…who’s considered something so drastic and dark…she knew what I did, we’d had that conversation many appointments ago, so I lied. Took up the remainder of the appointment smiling and trying to sound super-positive so that I could get out of that fake-filled situation. I left, the year flew by, I managed – just about…wishing that the apocalypse would come and sort out the cloudy mess in my mind.
Without any doubt, that experience taught me that no matter how much Christian hope and optimism one may have, the darkness can overshadow, temporarily of course, even the brightest light…one can lose hope, one can forget how to walk in the darkness, one can contemplate quitting.
Naming the darkness, and realising that you’re suffering from depression is the start of learning to live with the darkness…I’ve never related to the whole ‘black dog’ terminology. My depression isn’t an animal. It’s depression. It’s not black, it just is. The idea of this animal that comes into my life every now and then, in the persona of an big black dog that gets in the way of everything doesn’t do it for me. But I understand it works for others…
It doesn’t take long to realise that medication can’t solve everything, no amount of (in my case) Mirtazapine and Sertraline can get rid of the darkness, but it can help you see the light a little better…
Nothing can be better than a good doctor, a good therapist, a good combination of medication if you need it, and some serious TLC. I’m a fine one to talk….but I know it’s true.
Not that many Sundays ago, I was ordained at Chester Cathedral during the Methodist Conference held in Southport. Ordained to a lifelong task, a presbyteral task which is by definition an impossible task. Now that I’m back in harness – back to a myriad of difficulties and surrounded by a cloud of darkness…I’m reminded that it is usually in these moments that one comes closest to the divine…there’s a huge biblical precedent for meeting God in the cloud…the ‘cloud of unknowing.’
One of my tattoos reads: ‘Thy Nature and Thy Name is Love’ taken from Charles Wesley’s great hymn on Wrestling Jacob. Something I particularly wanted to remind me of the wrestling with faith, doubt, hope, life….with God, after which God is revealed as Love Divine…
Last week, I preached three times on the narrative in Luke’s Gospel (ch 24) relating to the journey to Emmaus. It recounts the journey of Cleopas and another disciples, unamed, towards Emmaus following the crucifixion.
In reality, we are allowed to be a fly on the wall. To look into the bereavement process of two of Jesus’ friends, who as they walk, can do nothing other than talk, constantly, about the death they had just lived. What happened on the cross, hollowed them out, yet they were oblivious to the hollowing out of the grave by Abraham’s God and theirs. Though they journeyed from the horror of Crucifixion, they were, in reality still at the foot of the cross staring up at their air-gasping-Saviour.
Little did they know but all they had hoped for had already been fulfilled, and the truth of Christ’s resurrection was a reality for the women, who had seen the empty grave and been greeted by the angels there.
The road to Emmaus is an interesting one. As fly’s on the wall, we imagine it to be quiet. desolate. dusty. And the apparent “aloneness” of the disciples adds to this.
But are they alone? Were they ever alone?
Are we ever in the darkness alone?
In their midsts was the risen Christ. Unrecognizable, un-called for, unannounced…
I’m reminded of that Wild Goose plaque with the quote by Carl Jung: ‘Vocatus atque non Vocatus Deus Aderit’ or ‘Bidden or not Bidden, God is present’.
Luke’s Gospel closes (almost!) with the account of two disciples who were living the darkness of death…right up until the time when they were able for themselves to recognise the risen Christ. After they offered him hospitality, a welcome, some food and water…a place to call home for a night.
Of course, after Luke’s gospel we move to the Gospel of John, rich in imagery and golden splendour…it’s my favourite…! Once described as Spiritual Viagra…if your Christian faith is running dry just read John’s Gospel and it will help. Anyway, it opens with a long prologue about the coming of the Christ-child, the Messiah – one who is the light in the darkness, which the darkness cannot overcome.
A certainty is given to us which Luke fails to so categorically give. For John, Jesus is the real deal of all deals – he is the Son of God in every page of John’s Gospel – the one who is and who will fulfill all of God’s promises, but most importantly who will come to win the world for God and the good, rather than evil and the Devil. there is no mistaking who Christ is when reading John…
Ordination is a fleeting moment on the journey of faith for those so called to this way of life. For myself it was the apex of all my hopes and dreams – and like the disciples on the mount of the Transfiguration, after all the hype and excitement it is time to go back down again…into the world, where not much of the mountain top stuff makes sense, to get on with the task at hand.
It’s not long before you find yourself back in the midsts of the work, sitting at your desk pondering words of scripture, driving people to see their deceased loved ones, anointing the sick, holding the grieving, facing the brunt of people’s anger, pain, frustration…chairing meetings and (mostly unsuccessfully) reconciling broken relationships…
So much of priestly life is to do with holding other people’s pain before God. For me, the Eucharist is the place where all of this is offered up to God…even more appropriately than in private prayer. Presbyters find themselves, amongst others, in the darkness of the world – in order to be beacons of what is good, and holy, and true, we need to know the darkness for ourselves. To know the darkness and not fear it, to know the darkness and not tremble in its presence, to know the darkness and be confident in the fire and light of the Holy Spirit.
It is in the darkness that we make sense of the depths of God’s light, the light which shines in the darkness, the light which the darkness cannot overcome…for those who feel as though the darkness has won, those who feel abandoned in the depths of the darkness of their own minds- hang in there. I know that feeling too, so did the best of Saints….daylight comes in the morning. Keep going.
For reasons which I’m sure are apparent, and due to the busyness of life, I won’t be blogging for a while – have alot to get done, but keep an eye on things here!
‘Come, O thou Traveller unknown,
Whom still I hold but cannot see,
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with thee,
With thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.
I need not tell thee who I am,
My sin and misery declare;
Thy self hast called my by my name:
Look on thy hands, and read it there!
But who, I ask thee, who art thou!
Tell me thy name, and tell me now.
In vain thou strugglest to get free;
I never will unloose my hold:
Art thou the Man that died for me
The secret of thy love unfold:
Wrestling, I will not let thee go,
Till I thy name thy nature know.
Wilt thou not yet to me reveal
Thy new unutterable name?
I tell me, I beseech thee, tell:
To know it now resolved I am:
Wrestling I will not let thee go,
‘Till I thy name thy nature know.
‘Tis all in vain to hold thy tongue,
Or touch the hollow of my thigh;
Though every sinnew were unstrung,
Out of my arms thou shalt not fly;
Wrestling, I will not let thee go,
‘Till I thy name, thy nature know.
What though my shrinking flesh complain,
And murmur to contend so long;
I rise superior to my pain,
When I am weak, then am I strong;
And when my all of strength doth fail,
I shall with thee God-man prevail.
My strength is gone, my nature dies,
I sink beneath thy weighty hand,
Faint to revive, and fall to rise,
I fall, and yet by faith I stand:
I stand, and will not let thee go, ‘Till I thy name, thy nature know’. – Charles Wesley