07 July 2011

How has your depression affected your spirituality?

by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

Nia: I was raised without religion, and my depression arrived after grade school, and these factors no doubt contributed to the cannot-be-bothered agnostic bent I had until my senior year in college. My family members never said anything bad about any religion but I absorbed enough media bias to develop the notion that "religious" people were a bit deficient mentally. What I learned in history classes about the Crusades didn't win me over, either. Mostly though I saw no point in a deity who couldn't protect you from a mental torture that tainted just about everything in life that should be fun.

However, I had enough decent, intelligent friends and relatives who were mildly religious that I kept my opinion to myself and figured it was a quality you had to overlook, like bad fashion sense or being a Kenny Loggins fan. In college I befriended a few people who turned out to be even more religious and my thinking changed again: two people can have radically different religious/spiritual beliefs without one of them being deluded. But in general I found the whole question of the existence of a higher power to be tiresome.

The depression death grip eased up just a bit my senior year, possibly because I had a lighter schedule and more time to be alone. That year I experienced several incidents of awe that made me think there might be something mysterious out there...nothing more concrete than that. One was the way the mountains outside Phoenix looked like big sleeping cats right before sunset. Another happened while listening to Van Morrison's album "Moondance."

Was that feeling caused by my unfamiliarity with the sensation of awe, which had been dampened by the depression? Was I just awed at awe and misinterpreting it? I dunno. It didn't seem that way. Anyway, I just left it at that: there's a mystery out there. I find life supremely dull without a mystery.

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Pastor Jayne: The lyrics to this song, which I heard for the first time on my CD player as I was about to ascend the final peak of Half Dome via the cables, completely illustrated my life: my attempts to "do life" on my own, my descent into blessed depth, my face plant, and my new identity as a daughter of grace. My fave line: " 'til she knelt beneath a wall that will could never scale". Blessed depth was that wall. Hence the name "blessed."

Daughter of Grace by Twila Paris

    She went down so low, thought she'd never ever find the surface again
    Went so far astray thought she'd never find her way back home

    Hated to think about the past almost as much as she hated to think about the future
    She sat down inside to wait, to rest her mind a while
    No use trying to fight with fate or fake a smile

    There she found the end of herself
    Heard a small voice crying for help and she was

    [CHORUS:]
      Carried in the arms of love and mercy Breathing in a second wind Shining with the light of each new morning Looking into hope again Unable to take another step Finally ready to begin Born for a second time in a brand new place Daughter of grace
    She spent half her life working hard
    to be someone you had to admire
    Met the expectations and added something of her own
    So proud of all that she had done
    Where was the glory?
    So proud at all she had not done
    'Til she knelt beneath a wall that will could never scale
    Broken and discovering that she could fail

    There she found the end of herself
    Heard her own voice crying for help and she was (CHORUS)...

    Grace is there for everyone
    Grace is always free
    We must all depend on grace
    Especially me, especially me, I have been (CHORUS)...

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    Soledad: Being surrounded by people who worship God throughout my life, I never "got it." Despite signing up for Bible study numerous times as a child and as an adult, I didn't subscribe to this "believe and ye shall receive" mentality. It seems too much like buying a vote to me. I want to believe in things, people, and ideas because they work well and I admire them. Not because they tell me I'll go to hell if I don't.

    I am actually surprised this sort of thinking "works" for so many. And I think it's mainly due to how people are raised. You tend to trust things/people/ideas that remind you of the security of your family, and your childhood. Instead, I believe in the value of good works and a benevolent society. These things are reflected in Buddhism and Taoism, and certainly also in Christianity. So, for me at least, I believe in "Do unto others..." and all the other tenets of most organized religions, it's just that I don't believe you should have to worship a being in order to behave that way. I will serve others in my life because it's the right thing to do and because I want to, not because someone told me I must do it.

    It is unclear to me whether being an introvert and a realist (with what some might call a pessimistic bent) has influenced my spiritual choices in life. But I suspect if I were not such a realist, an unseen, unprovable deity might hold more weight with me. Maybe I need to move to Missouri, the "Show Me State." Things that are unprovable don't make it very far into my life.

    And I suspect that being a realist and an agnostic has increased my sense of isolation in the world, and thus contributed to some loneliness. And what spikes depression better than loneliness?! When I feel everyone is doing something I cannot do with a clear conscience, it tends to make me feel a little left out and in search of more like-minded people, of which there are too few.

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    Illustration by M. Rhea.