I am prone to depression. When I say this, I do not mean that I am depressed now- I'm not. And it's not even likely that I'll be depressed tomorrow- as a matter of fact, I feel pretty good. I only mean that, having a history of depression in my adolescence and early adulthood, it's fairly likely that I'll know diagnosable depression again sometime before I die.
Part of this propensity is, I believe, personality. I brood. I consider myself a secret. I feel loss deeply. I carry old wounds around longer than many other people seem to. I connect smaller points of pain into larger self-punishing portraits. My gifts of self-knowledge, emotional awareness, deep memory, and perpetual pattern-seeking have also cursed the train of my existence to careen off of its very tracks- and to keep on going.
The other part of my proclivity, is, of course, chemical and biological. Early on I recognized that long nights threw my soul into darkness, and that brighter days abruptly reversed the trend (I later learned this to be a symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder). I strongly suspect on evidence that both my mother and my father have wrangled with the their own versions of melancholia, though of course they have always refused to talk about it.
I write all of this because depression is the strongest ailment I have known. Physically, I've never so much as broken a bone. I've never had a major operation. I've had no significant infections or viruses- nothing at all, in that line, lasting more than a day or two. So I've lived my life externally unscathed.
Most people who know me have never, and would never, guess my annual malady. Which is a shame, because my remedies have been equally silent and internal, yet far more profound, their implications far more reaching.
In my earliest adolescence, the reversals of spring seemed - and doubtless were- essentially miraculous. I trace my commitment to follow Christ back to a bathroom epiphany in March the year I was in the seventh grade. The enduring bliss of my confirmation and Baptism one year later centered on the empty tomb of Easter- and, subliminally, on the change to Daylight Savings Time. My internal year begins on my birthday not because it is the day that I was born, but because in the middle of March's shifting weather I have been perennially reborn, reanimated.
Spring shoots its grass into my soul.
So you see, I do not understand the ascent from ahedonia to be one example of healing. I understand all healing to be extensions of what happened to me after those crashing, crushing waves of despair. Many have tried, though few have succeeded, to capture the numinous quality of the energy one receives post-trauma. Jane Kenyon has said that it is like falling into life again. I have said that happiness must have been surprised to find me there.
Have you ever smelt joy? It's something like detergent. Have you physically heard the electric crackle of the world, the snap and hum of emotional intent? Have you ever watched your golden breath pour out like sunlit water? Like amber wine?
Have you ever taken it back in?
Do you know what happens to the fine hairs on your friends arm when she reaches for a pencil? Do you know what color looks like what it comes back? Do you know what music sounds like when you've heard months of mumbling murmur?
I will never forget these things, though they fade as each year without an episode happens- seven now, in my provisionally stable sanity, my fortified emotional green zone. Mortars here, tanks over there. Keep the guards awake.
But the odd, the strange thing about such cyclic peaks and troughs was not that wellness meant getting back to normal. It is that normal meant getting back to illness, to the worse way things were before. By November, no one's paying attention, but it's coming just the same.
The best times, the breath of life times, were just this side of tragedy. Healing feels better than feeling well. Heaven is not your living room, but the place where you wake up after surgery. This may have interesting theological implications.
What if we went to church not for maintenance, but for recovery from the deep wounds of the world fully and clearly recognized? What if Christ gave no awards for perfect attendance, but did give budget-bursting parties for 12-step alcoholics? What if God was not the guy who cleaned your gutters, but the handyman who replaced the busted pipes inside your basement?
Talitha cumi. This is my body, broken for you. The Eastern church understands sin not as a legal offense but as a spiritual illness. Christ came not to die for our sins, but to live for our salvation, "God became human so that humanity can become divine." The Crucifixion was not about an innocent taking the fall for Adam's infraction, but about a healing benediction of a cosmos rent asunder from God. About putting the splint on a relational split, not leveling the scales for some blind biddy.
A preacher I knew once shattered a number of coffee mugs, "This is what happens to our lives," he said, and put them inside a bag. Then, while he was teaching, he took the scattered shards and set them on a piece of wood. He had arranged them into a mosaic. "And this is God's response," he said, "if we let Him."
We're going to begin offering a healing station at Gethsemane in a few weeks, and it's going to be a temptation for me to go back week after week. We're always wounded. Indeed, some have said that the art of wholeness is learning to understand and accept our infirmities. But if that is true, then the art of living in Christ is learning to understand and accept the healing principles at work inside our lives.
The Bible, I'm increasingly beginning to see, divides the world into two kingdoms: the kingdom of the world with all of its powers and principalities and the kingdom of Christ, that is the kingdom of heaven or the spirit. One of these kingdoms offers healing. The other one does not. Perhaps the art of living is simply deciding whose side you're on.