Saturday, November 17, 2012

Faith, Depression, Loss, and So It Goes

i have a dear online friend whom i knew a few years ago as a student, and adored.  we've since become close, in the way electronic media  sometimes fosters closeness---personal in a very public context.  it's odd, but it happens sometimes.

She's in her young 40s, old enough to have been through a lot good and a lot bad in life; she is  a reader, a thinker, and a born-again christian.  she writes GOD in capital letters, and this matters.  GOD is her foundation, and holds her up through some rough times, including what i read as close to clinical depression [that's how i read it, b/c it sounds so much like mine].  she is enormously busy, accomplishing a lot, including the raising of 2 toddlers; going to school; volunteer fire fighting; monthly military duty; extra readings of 'great thinkers' christian and otherwise; and is about to enter a course to become a paramedic.  i know i've left out a lot of what she does.

her politics simply bewilder me, as i think mine to hers, b/c they seem to come from the same gut place; a loathing of people hurting people.  she agrees with most of the extreme right wing.  she wants to help homosexuals and women who have abortions b/c she truly believes they are ipso facto  harming themselves and possibly others.  i wince, but i can't wince her away, b/c she is good, she is a loving, special, caring human being.

i have other born-again friends who don't like abortion or homosexuality, as personal life decisions or life paths, but whom i have seen fight hard against institutions that try to fire or discriminate against such people.  it might be interesting to see jen and della in a discussion about god; they are close in ways, far apart in others.

but what they both have, that i can neither borrow, absorb, nor grasp, is FAITH. again the capital letters, this time mine, not theirs.  i have lower case faith, it flows throughout and around me, and sometimes outside of me and sometimes back in.  it is part of my being, but i think not my foundation.  it's quasi-buddhist as much as anything, but not even that close to a religion.  maybe unitarian. or universalist.  sometimes it comes from my soul, but more from my brain.  sometimes, though rarely, it  allows me visions that help me grapple with pain or crisis.  mostly though, such visions come not at times of extremity, but at times of relative neutrality.  and visions may be the wrong word--more like a knowing, whether visual or sensual or not, through my whole being.

a couple of times, many years ago, such a knowing came to me in the elevator as i was leaving work to meet my  boyfriend. i'm not fond of elevators; it's not where i'd place a sense of eternity.  but i knew, in whatever block of time [which was irrelevant] i knew, that this instant in the elevator had always been, would always be, that it was existence.   a year or so later in that same elevator i literally, visually, saw myself there, as i had been in the first experience, again with no surprise.

but my visions, my knowings, have nothing to do with god or the rules of the bible or anything else. they simply are.  meditation might tell me more, but meditation makes me nervous and brings on anxiety i leave them to come when they choose.

they give me much understanding, but they give me nothing when i'm in the midst of depression.  and this is where i envy jen.  not that i believe for an instant that her depressions are less deep or less painful than mine.  but her GOD really is a foundation that holds her together.  my sort of faith--a combination of the visions and knowings and a large intellectual conviction that what is has always been and will always be in various permutations-- don't come together to rescue me; the dark thick core of dull pain lets nothing good into it, however well i function on the surface.   the core gets more or less thicker or thinner, but its power never lessens.  i think a strong, defined faith might help melt it.

but the trouble is that faith, though not only belief, requires belief. you can't just pick it up at a boutique or a thrift store.  if it's peripatetic and wispy, like mine is, it's useful at other times--but not these.  what i don't believe i can't have faith  in.  i wish i could borrow my friends' faiths, as i might a scarf on a winter night, to return when the storm is over.  but it isn't mine.  I love aspects of it: the baby born again each year to bring innocence into the world; the sorrowing mother who expands her sorrow not only to her son's unavoidable death, but to all of us lesser humans who suffer.  it's all a beautiful mythology.

so the pills are working now; i've stopped wishing to be dead, am able to write, am miles from happy but at least not all about the thick black core that knows it will get me later.

there is a gorgeous saying coming, i think, from christianity----lord, i believe; help my unbelief.  but my 'lord' wears  no face, is intangible; i need to find it different ways than my friends do, and these ways i think will not come through either the pain of depression or the muting of tranquilizers.  sometimes, in good times, i think it has found me---and maybe that's all i really need.

 &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&p.s., a day later.

Looking over this last post,  pretty much one draft, i found a few typos--easy enough to fix-- but also a couple of things worth clarifying that i don't want to add to a piece already written and read. as my friend jim pointed out, all christianity isn't born-again. i add this not as a judgement but simply a fact.  and beyond that, not all faith, or FAITH, are christian.  [i have been lucky enough to have had several muslim students in my classes over the years, and even luckier to have had some good personal conversations with a few of them about religion and its place in their lives. few of  my jewish friends are observant, but certainly judaism has a deep, ancient tradition of religious beliefs that manifest in their own sometimes cohesive, sometimes contradictory forms of faith. and those are only the abrahamic religions.  i grew up catholic, which for better or worse formed  the basis of my own sense of what religious belief is about.

and also, though i recognize myself in others' descriptions of depression, i can speak knowledgeably only about my own. 


Jim Lehmer said...

Remember, not all of us Christians are "born-again." Why, some of us even have lesbians for pastors. :)

Many evangelicals believe that conversion must be an emotional, know-it-all-at-once, "road to Damascus" event. You have to be able to name the time and place you "came to Christ." My faith journey has NOT been like that.

I read something for class a while back that better described my experience. Besides Paul's sudden conversion, another example in the New Testament is Peter. Peter is the first to declare Jesus the Messiah. He is also the one who denies him three times. Peter is a "two-steps-forward, one-and-a-half-steps-back" kind of guy. He messes up. A lot. And yet he keeps plodding along, recovering, believing, messing up again - repeat.

Peter is my model for my faith journey. It has never been all at once. I can't name the date and place I "found Jesus" (and I didn't even know he was lost! :) I mess up, a LOT. And Peter's example lets me know it's OK.

And when it comes to your "faith" I think you're OK, too. You seem to be doing a lot with what you understand, feel and believe, even if that doesn't fit in any one religion's dogmatic model. Does it make the depression go away and answer all your questions? No. I don't think faith works that way. Does it make you believe there is more to this existence than meets the eye? It seems so. That's where it happens. That poking around in the "So, what does this all MEAN?" question.

I am glad the meds are working. It is good to see you posting again. I've been praying for you, hope you don't mind. :)

Ken Goldstein said...

Faith can be a pillar that holds you together, or set of blinders that keeps out conflicting information. A comforting lie that doesn't ask any questions or demand any answers, or a blank slate that appreciates whatever is thrown at it, good or bad. Open, closed, whatever. You just got to have some.

karen lindsey said...

jim, i was sure i responded to your comment but seem not to have. thanks for your prayers, and please don't stop! whatever the great IT is, it gets all our messages, i'm convinced. and it's always helpful when you feel like you have no justification to exist that people really do care.