Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Came across a thread on another blog last week about a vicar who's not been offered jobs with responsibility by his bish because of mental health problems in the past. It struck me that that probably reduces the pool of clergy who can do responsible jobs to about 50.

Depression, and mental illness, is pretty epidemic at the moment. Oliver James Britain on the Couch is a pretty good description of what's going on, though once he starts explaining why he goes into lots of 'evolutionary biology' which sounds like a fancy scientific way of speculating about what the past was like. There's an online article on the same subject here.

There's plenty of mental distress in the Easter story. Peter breaks down and cries when he realises he doesn't have the guts to stand up for Jesus. Judas commits suicide. Jesus himself is 'troubled to the point of death', and you can sense the darkness hanging over him through the last supper, and into the Garden of Gethsemane. On the cross Jesus cries out to the Father who seems to have abandoned him (though there are various ways to interpret 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?' - any good Jew would have known this to be a quote from the start of Psalm 22, it would be like singing the first line of a song, you go on to sing the song through in your head. As they went through Psalm 22 in their heads they'd have got to some startling references to the crucifixion, written centuries before, and found the Psalm was giving them insights into what was really happening. Find the Psalm and read it if you don't believe me).

Then after Jesus death we get grief, numbness, bewilderment, people regressing to familiar activities, or wanting to be alone ('I'm going fishing'), they are devastated.

So the Christian faith, of all places, should be a place where we can allow grief, depression, devastation and blackness to be expressed. These are things we shouldn't be afraid of. And people who've been through them have things to teach the rest of us, and can draw alongside others in depression and grief in a way which others can't.

This time last year I was taking anti-depressants. Not because I'm a sad person - most people probably have me down as an optimist, pretty energetic, look on the positive side kind of person. But life throws enough crap at us that eventually we can't dodge it all.

A few weeks ago the vicars in my Diocese were summoned for a training day on child protection and issues around sexual abuse. It was pretty grim stuff, most of it, but I guess it's raised our awareness of some pretty difficult issues. I've yet to see a Diocesan training day on mental illness and how as Christians to deal with our own depression or to help others. Given that about 25% of us get hit with serious depression or other mental illness at various times, it's a bit of a gaping hole. The NHS isn't much better - presented with something like OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder, one of the more common forms of mental illness), many doctors would not spot the symptoms, or don't know what it is.

The disciples, on top of everything else, then have to cope with the resurrection of Jesus. I imagine that that might have been even more stressful than Jesus death! Maybe that's why Jesus hung around for another 40 days, to hold them together whilst they adjusted to the turning of the page of history. Yet despite all they'd been through, a few weeks later they'd be filled with the Holy Spirit and launched with power and grace into the market place to tell the world about the man who was raised from the dead.

Whatever we've been through, wherever we are, Jesus sticks with us and the Spirit can still fill us. Even if it feels like God has abandoned us, we complain in the language of prayer because we're not going to let Him get away that easily. There will be a time of waiting, Easter Saturday can last for a very long time, but then the stars will fade, the black night shade into dark blue, the tinges of red appear on the horizon, and we will feel the warmth of morning again.

In the words of R.E.M: 'when you think you've had enough of this life.... hang on.'

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