Saturday, June 20, 2015

Depression, suicide, and the Cross as hope in reality

I found it highly telling that yesterday when I posted an article from the Deseret News on my Facebook timeline ("Utah ranks 5th for overdose deaths, 14th overall for injury deaths") that highlighted findings from a report compiled by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, "The Facts Hurt, A State by State Injury Prevention Policy Report, 2015," nobody responded either by commenting or "liking." It seems that some facts do, indeed, hurt.

Given that Utah's suicide rate is way way higher than the nationwide average (national average is 12.5 suicides per 100,000 and Utah's is 20.6 per 100,00), I also found it telling that this disturbing fact (I will try not to go off on a philosophical discourse about the nature of a "fact") was not noted in the lengthy headline. It's tough stuff and, I believe that here in Utah, there are some deep underlying socio-religious causes.

Needless to say, given my own struggles, these measures of events that happen in the world pre-occupied me a good portion of yesterday afternoon, especially in light of the mass murder in Charleston. For many people, including me, it's all too easy for what happened in Charleston this week to only highlight our fear and our insecurity, maybe even robbing us of our hope. Instead, let's let it provoke the question, "In who or what do I place my hope?" My hope lies in the the beautiful witness of those who were senselessly gunned down, the lone survivor, who, in the ego-manical machinations of the killer, was let go to tell the world what happened, and that of their surviving family members (see "‘I forgive you.’ Relatives of Charleston church shooting victims address Dylann Roof").



It was wonderful that this post by Heather Parrie showed up this morning in my Facebook feed. She deals very forthrightly with the reality of depression, the kind that leads to contemplation of ending it all: "The Semicolon Project"
We’ll start here: a semi-colon is a place in a sentence where the author has the decision to stop with a period, but chooses not to. A semi-colon is a reminder to pause and then keep going... I got this tattoo as a promise to myself that I would never willingly end my sentence
I would never presume to speak about these matters on behalf of anyone other than myself, but I often find it very difficult, close to impossible, to face reality, to deal with the circumstances in which I find myself. As a a result, I waste a lot of time and energy wishing for a change of circumstances. This week I finished re-reading Fergus Kerr's Thomas Aquinas: A Very Short Introduction while sitting by the pool at the Boy Scout Camp in Millcreek Canyon, a beautiful outdoor setting in a lovely corner of God's creation, which helped me experience, again, the reality that creation itself is a sacrament. I ran across this, which I found useful, timely, and a provocation:
On Thomas's view, we pray in order to dispose ourselves so as to receive properly what God wills to give us. We pray, so to speak, to change, not God's will, but our own disposition (82)
Don't worry, Thomas accounts for that which God determines to fulfill precisely through our prayers, but that is beside the point I am trying to make.



I found Kerr's summary of the Angelic Doctor on prayer useful because it showed me, yet again, that reality, when engaged according all the factors that together constitute it, is cruciform. If I take the cruciform shape of reality as axiomatic, then, by definition, at times life is inevitably painful. So when, and, at least for me, only when, united with Christ's suffering my pain bears fruit, has a point, a purpose, an end towards which it is directed- the ultimate end for which I have been lovingly and uniquely created and redeemed. In this way, my pain becomes my sanctification. But I am aware that this pain can also be my (self-imposed) damnation. I don't mind sharing that in my sometimes realistic grappling with these things part of my inner dialogue is telling myself, "Lean into the Cross until you have splinters in your hands, on your cheek, on your forehead, and in your chest." Now, this may not be useful for everyone. It is useless to anyone who does not have a sense of just how much s/he is loved by the Lord. It is one of the ways I experience His love most directly.

It's pretty damn difficult to stand-up with a boulder on your back and ask for help. This is true for a lot of general reasons, but even more true for specific reasons peculiar to the person who is being crushed by this weight; everyone experiences these things through the prism of her/his personality. And so, for those truly struggling, it's not easy to just say to that person, "If you're feeling the weight crushing you, reach out for help." Here's something useful: if you know someone who struggles with these things, call her, text him, email, just let that person know you're thinking about them and you care for them, remind that person s/he matters to you. If you are blessed not to be so afflicted, these simple, consistent actions mean more than you'll ever know. We live in a society and culture that induces existential angst and produces mental disorders.



Heather went on to write this about her tatoo -
Another thing: my tattoo is just slightly crooked. At first that bothered me. And then I remembered that life’s a little crooked, too. And now I love it even more
I am more than a little off-center, that is, eccentric, which, I strongly believe, makes the One who loves me with an unfathomable, unfailing love, love me all the more.

For further reflection, I invite you to pray with Psalm 139.

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