Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ocean of darkness, and of light--how to overcome depression

"I saw that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings…." --George Fox

During a recent meeting for worship at Orange Grove I was led to share a message about depression. It has become clear to me that some highly gifted people, including some Friends, have suffered from this affliction. As Larry Ingle makes clear in his book First Among Friends, George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, suffered from deadly bouts of depression that left him incapacitated for long periods of time. Lord Shaftesbury, one of the great Evangelical reformers of the 19th century, helped to pass laws ending the slave trade and child labor. He also helped reform mental institutions so that they would be more humane. He, too, suffered from bouts of depression, rage, and irrational behavior so intense he once confessed, "If I weren't a Lord, I'd probably be in a lunatic asylum." Finally, Parker Palmer, whose book Hidden Wholeness I've been reading for my spiritual direction program, doesn't conceal the fact that he suffered from acute depression.

When Fox spoke of an "ocean of darkness," he was using a metaphor that vividly describes what many people experience during depression--a feeling of drowning in an unending sea of despair.

But Fox also experienced an "ocean of light"--a sense of being buoyed up in a sea of divine love so intense it overcomes this feeling of isolation and hopelessness. 

I concluded my message by remarking that there were probably people in this Meeting who had suffered or were currently suffering from depression, and were reluctant to seek help because of the stigma attached to such a condition. I encourage Friends to reach out in love to those who are depressed, and to welcome them into the "ocean of light and love."

After I shared this vocal ministry, there was a time of silence, and then a Friend shared about his own experiences with depression:

"I have suffered from depression since I was 8 years old," he said. "And I always thought it was a terrible thing. But finally, I realized that I was learning something important from my depression. I was learning how to be compassionate and empathetic...."

He concluded his testimony by saying "Yay for depression!" which made everyone laugh. (Laughter being one of the best antidotes for depression.)

When Meeting ended, there was a time for sharing joys and concerns in which we "hold each other in the Light" (as Quakers describe intercessory prayer). Because of this vocal ministry, my wife Jill felt safe enough to ask for prayers to help her through her depression. During a time of silence the whole Meeting surrounded us with loving thoughts, bathing us in an "ocean of light and love" that was deeply healing. 

It was a precious moment, one of those instances when I felt the Spirit fully present in me and in our gathered Meeting. I am infinitely grateful to Friends for practicing a form of worship that allows the Spirit to do its healing work.

A week later, when I was having coffee with the clerk of Ministry and Counsel, I mentioned this moment and she told me that M & O had heard this concern and decided to explore ways they could reach out to members and attenders of Meeting who might be suffering depression. Her response filled my heart with joy.

I told her this was an excellent idea since the onset of winter often causes "seasonal affective disorder" (SAD) among those prone to depression, and the holidays can also trigger tender memories of loss and unhealed wounds.

Dr. Barton Goldsmith provides "10 tools for dealing with holiday depression" that are worth keeping in mind: 

While this is a helpful and practical list, it leaves out another important "tool" for curing depression--practicing the presence of the Divine. When we can take a deep breath and remember we are God's beloved, it definitely helps. I know from experience how important it is to reach out not only to friends, but to God, during times of darkness and despair.

Here are some passages from the Psalms that may be healing for you. It is pretty clear from reading the Psalms that the Psalmist suffered from bouts of profound despair and depression, and that he found solace in contemplating the Lord. I suggest that if you are feeling depressed, find a quiet place where you can sit and meditate on one of these passages from the Psalms. As you reflect on the words, remember that people throughout the ages have walked through the "valley of the shadow" and found comfort in the Lord's presence. Breathe in God's healing spirit, and allow the Light to work within you.

Psalm 34: The Lord Helps the Brokenhearted The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 23: The Valley of the Shadow
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 32: You Will Protect Me
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Psalm 91: His Faithfulness Will Be Your Shield
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Psalm 46: God is Our Refuge
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

Psalm 43: Put Your Hope in God
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Psalm 68: He Bears Our Burdens
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
who daily bears our burdens.

Psalm 18: God is My Rock
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold

Psalm 34: The Lord is Good
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 34: Take Heart
Be strong and take heart,
All you who hope in the Lord.

Psalm 73: God Is the Strength
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Psalm 29: The Lord Blesses His People

The Lord gives strength to his people;
The Lord blesses his people with peace.

Psalm 103: Forget Not All His Benefits
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Psalm 28: The Lord is My Strength
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to him in song.


Since I began this reflection with a passage from George Fox's Journal, I'd like to end with a letter he wrote to Oliver Cromwell's daughter, Lady Claypole, who suffered from depression and other forms of mentail distress. In this letter, he describes how to let the Inward Light of Christ do its healing work: 

Be still and cool in your own mind and spirit from your own thoughts, and then you will feel the principle of God to turn your mind to the Lord God, from whom life comes; whereby you may receive his strength and power to allay all blusterings, storms, and tempests. That is it which works up into patience, into innocence, into soberness, into stillness, into firmness, into quietness, up to God, with his power. Therefore mind, that is the word of the Lord to you, that the authority of God you may feel, and your faith in it, to work down that which troubles you. For that is it which keeps peace and brings up the witness in you, which has been transgressed, to feel after God with his power and life, who is a God of order and peace.

When you are in the transgression of the life of God in your own particular way, the mind flies up in the air, the creature is led into the night, nature goes out of its course, an old garment goes on, and an uppermost clothing: and your nature being led out of its course, it comes to be all on fire in the transgression, and that defaces the glory of the first body.

Therefore be still awhile from your own thoughts, searching, seeking, desires, and imaginations, and be stayed in the principle of God in you, that it may raise your mind up to God, and stay it upon God, and you will find strength from him, and find him to be a God at hand, a present help in the time of trouble and of need. And you being come to the principle of God, which has been transgressed, it will keep you humble; and the humble God will teach his way, which is peace, and such he does exalt.

Now as the principle of God in you has been transgressed, come to it, that it may keep your mind down low to the Lord God; to deny yourself, and from your own will, that is the earthly, from which you must be kept. Then you will feel the power of God, which will bring nature into its course, and let you see the glory of the first body. There the wisdom of God will be received, (which is Christ, by which all things were made and created), and you thereby preserved and ordered to God's glory. There you will come to receive and feel the physician of value, who clothes people in their right mind, by which they may serve God and do his will.

For all distractions, unruliness, and confusion are in the transgression; which transgression must be brought down, before the principle of God, which has been transgressed against, is lifted up; by which the mind may be seasoned and stilled, and a right understanding of the Lord may be received; whereby his blessings enter, and are felt over all that is contrary in the power of the Lord God, which raises up the principle of God within, gives a feeling after God, and in time gives dominion. Keep in the fear of the Lord God; that is the word of the Lord to you.

For all these things happen to you for your good, and for the good of those concerned for you, to make you know yourselves and your own weakness, and that you may know the Lord's strength and power, and may trust in him. Let the time past be sufficient to everyone, who in any thing has been lifted up in transgression out of the power of the Lord; for He can bring down and abase the mighty, and lay them in the dust of the earth. Therefore, all keep low in his fear, so that you may receive the secrets of God and his wisdom, may know the shadow of the Almighty, and sit under it in all tempests, storms, and heats. For God is a God at hand, and the Most High rules in the children of men.

This is the word of the Lord God to you all; what the light exposes and discovers, as temptations, distractions, confusions; do not look at the temptations, confusions, corruptions; but at the light which discovers them and exposes them; and with the same light you may feel over them, to receive power to stand against them.

The same light which lets you see sin and transgression, will let you see the covenant of God, which blots out your sin and transgression, which gives victory and dominion over it, and brings into covenant with God.

For looking down at sin, corruption, and distraction, you are swallowed up in it; but looking at the light, which discovers them, you will see over them.

That will give victory, and you will find grace and strength; there is the first step to peace. That will bring salvation; and by it you may see to the beginning, and the "Glory that was with the Father before the world began;" and come to know the seed of God; which is the heir of the promise of God, and of the world which has no end; and which bruises the head of the serpent, who stops people from coming to God. That you may feel the power of an endless life, the power of God which is immortal, which brings the immortal soul up to the immortal God, in whom it rejoices. So in the name and power of the Lord Jesus Christ, God Almighty strengthen you.

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