In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1: 1-4, KJV)
What I find frightening about “the beginning” is not the void, formlessness, depth, or darkness. It is that the darkness is still there. “Let there be light: and there was light.” Great. “And God saw the light, that it was good.” Great. “God divided the light from the darkness.” What? Why not get rid of it? What the hell do we need it for? The light is good. Isn’t that enough? Why must God go and name the darkness? And, for me, that is what is most frightening it “is” and it is “named.”
My darkness is known by many names: melancholy, the blues, down in the dumps, blah, bummed, despondent, gloomy, sadness. And I have known my darkness by all those names, but I call it what it is, depression.
My darkness is not Legion. My darkness is an illness and naming it is diagnosing it. For me, being able to name it means it can be treated. At one time, my faith would have made me recoil at such a simple statement. Surely, depression is a demon in disguise. But think for one moment what that sentence implies. I am possessed and therefore I am powerless. What an utter load of nonsense! Yes, all illness, including those not limited to the mind, have a spiritual dimension, but we don’t hold exorcisms for cardiac arrests. Why? Because we recognize that while there is a spiritual dimension to illness, it is not the only damned one. And the presence of that other dimension doesn’t invalidate the other. Notice what I am not returning to here, the demonic. I am possessed? Why because the organ that is hurting happens to be the only one that knows it is an organ? Why because it is easier to think of malicious spirits rather than biochemistry? It is dopamine, not a demon. It isn’t Satan, its serotonin. Entertaining anything else as a cause is tying a burden on yourself or others that neither can stand up under. I am possessed? If God can create a presence in an absence and bring resurrection to death then why should I worry that anything can possess me? If God’s eye is on the little old sparrow, then I know God watches over me. And what can separate us from the love of God? Nothing! No weapon formed against us can defeat us. I am possessed? Nonsense!
And let’s consider this nonsense about me being powerless? How did God conquer the void? How did God overcome the darkness? (The language here is poetic as God is powerful and never needed to conquer or overcome anything. It is our perceptions of void and darkness that God seeks to overcome.) God spoke, and this is telling. The greatest power my darkness, my depression, has is its stigma; its ability to silence me. God spoke; and, again, this is telling. I know my darkness. I know my depression. I know that it wraps its hand over my mouth making me mute; especially after my recent illness. Over the last ten days, I was hospitalized with an infection in my left forearm and hand. My routine was upset by that of a working hospital. I don’t do well without a working, predictable routine. I know I don’t do well when I have to have me as my only company for extended periods of time. I don’t do well when I feel that I am limited. I don’t do well when I am not in control. I know that my meds don’t interact well with the meds my infection demanded; particularly pain meds. I know this. I know my depression. It is more than knowing…it is speaking. It is reaching out and saying what I know to others. It is my letting my doctors know how my body and mind require a few days after discharge to recover. I know that when I am recovering that I am at my weakest in resisting self-medicating. I know this and I ask a loving and firm wife to flush those types of meds and count the ones I am supposed to take. I speak. I text friends. I break self-imposed silences on social media. I speak and you respond: a text, an email, a phone call, a visit. And what if it is the case that I being created in the image of God in my speaking invite others to be the light of God in the person of Christ that enters my life?
What I wanted early on in my struggle with depression were cosmic fireworks illuminating a starless sky. I wanted the brilliance of a big bang. What I got was a candle. One candle. And it took me years to see it. But the thing is when you learn to see that first candle…you learn how to see the next one…then another and another. No cosmic fireworks or big bangs. Just one authentic, caring, present light.
And the candle isn’t as important as the one who carries it. Behold those who sit in darkness have seen a great light. Maybe not? Maybe they just heard John at the Jordan and believed. Maybe they heard the first preachers, those women who ran to tell all about an empty tomb. Maybe the light is blinding like that one on the road to Damascus. Maybe it is subtle like the one on the road to Emmaus. In the end, does it matter? For me, no…it only matters that it is. And just as darkness can be named, so can light. And these are my candles… And there are many, more than I can name. So many that I recognize how important it is for me to be a candle to another.
A candle is a wife who is committed in sickness and in health beyond what the word commitment can ever convey. A candle is a daughter who prayed that you find you’re happy again. A candle is a mother who would harrow hell and it is a sister who would abide with you in its heat. A candle is a pastor who invited me out to lunch and unknowingly freed me, if only briefly, from a self-imposed biochemically-driven prison cell. A candle is another pastor who was terrified of psychiatric units but nevertheless, showed up every other day at lunch time just to listen. A candle is a student who protected my dignity without ever being asked to or having a reason to. A candle was a supervisor who remembered she was first a minister. A candle is a brother and sister who are also children of father Abraham. A candle is an old friend who offered me an opportunity not advice. A candle was a campus minister who gave me a place to be, something to do, and a title that wasn’t patient. A candle was a student who knows the blessing of sanctuary and gave it to me. A candle is a welcoming congregation where you don’t have to explain that you’re a little, or a lot, messed up.
And for God’s sake if you’ve read this far and take nothing else with you…be a candle for someone. A candle is singular. It is simple. It offers only what light it can. And that is enough.