Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spirituality: It’s dark in here!

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 21, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky There’s probably not an adult who has not been plagued on occasion with at least a tinge of depression. For some of us, it can really be an imprisoning challenge. Pastoral counseling experience informs me that people who suffer from acute depression go through a living hell. Some even may want to die.

It is impossible to describe adequately the state of depression to someone who stands, as it were, on the outside. Some speak of it as like walking through a long, empty hall. Others, a deep pit of nothingness. Others still, a total paralysis of being. In mild cases, people speak of a listlessness or an inability to be “perked” by anything – not even by the loving attention offered by those who care.

Depression is a psychological state that can effect anyone. A child who has lost a cat to a careless driver knows the feeling well. So, too, does the teenager who has broken up with a best friend. Certainly, the adult who has suffered the death of a loved one or has been the victim of violent crime or injustice has quaffed of depression, too. In yet other instances, life itself – and all its elements of stress – can become an overwhelming burden that crushes both will and spirit.

According to television commercials, all one has to do in these circumstances is ask the doctor for a pill. Perhaps that is the help needed in clinical cases. It is true that depression can have biological causes and medication can be a genuine help.

I wonder what kind of diagnosis the depressed prophet Elijah would have received in the midst of all his troubles. Chapter 19 of the Old Testament’s First Book of Kings offers a glimpse into his story.

Poor man. A score of his prophet friends had been put to the sword by a corrupt king, Ahab (inspired by the sleeze-bomb Jezebel). No one was paying attention to the pronouncements God inspired him to make. And now Jezebel had ordered his very death. Poor Elijah literally was running for his life.

Elijah slumps at the base of a tree – that is, slumps into a deep depression. The entire world is out to get him, he complains. He wants to be left alone to die. Sure symptoms of severe depression.

Through the mediation of a messenger, God tries to help (as is always the case), offering the depleted prophet bread and water “for the journey.” Elijah eats and drinks, but is blind to the loving gesture. He returns to his depression. In fact, he escapes to Mount Horeb and crawls into a cave (another vivid image of depression used often by those who have been there).

While in this sad state of affairs, God tries to reach out to address his faithful servant. First, through a thunderous wind. No use. Then by shaking Elijah’s cage with an earthquake. No result. Then with a blazing fire. No good. Nothing seems to get into poor Elijah’s world.

Finally the prophet hears the voice of God in a gentle breeze. Life gets brighter and the journey of ministry continues with less stress.

This story about Elijah often is the focus of homilists and spiritual writers. It speaks less about an historical event in Elijah’s life and more about our own experience of God. Bad times do befall the people of God. At times it can even seem like the world is out to get us. There indeed are occasions when the bottom seems to fall out of life and we are tempted to cry out, “Where is God in all this?!” Clinical depression may or may not result, but we can know well the dark cave of self-pity and the darkness of isolation.

Yes, where is God in all this? When the bad things happen, it is important to remind ourselves that God remains there for us. God is not distant and aloof, regardless of how we may feel. Feelings of absence do not constitute the reality. In fact, most likely, in such times God does speak though the various “angels” who come our way with their words and acts of kindness – and, at times, even sacrificial love. God may even blast us with wind, earthquake and fire, but self-absorption can be terribly blinding and deafening.

When things just aren’t going well, it helps to know that God still speaks – boldly in so many ways, and perhaps quietly in others. All the same, God is there. Like Elijah, all of us have been called onto a journey. Hopefully, no one is out to take our lives, but the journey beckons all the same. Regardless how bad it all may seem to become, God is with us, strengthening us for the long journey.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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