It's funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools - friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty - and said 'do the best you can with these, they will have to do'. And mostly, against all odds, they do — Anne Lamott
In slightly less than a month, we will be at the Winter Solstice, often referred to as the Longest Night. Because it is. It is on this night that the Earth is the farthest it will be in the year from the sun. The day is the shortest it will be, and the night is the longest it will be. For many faith communities, it has become a night to honor the harshness of winter, both the physical season and the season of life that so many of us experience. It's a season of death and despair, of change and transition. It's loss. It's heartache. It's without words.
On nights like these, often, the best we can hope for, the best we can do, is to make it through. Coping. Survival. It's nights like these that have caused me to think about God in a different way than I have before...
I'm nearing the end of my time in seminary, and here at the end, I have two papers left to write: one on my theology of God, and one on a topic relating to Christian morality and ethics. At the intersection of the two, I've been toying (thanks to a professor, some classmates, and a couple of friends) with a concept that has either been coined or that we are coining "survival theology." It's nowhere near hashed out, but given some happenings in my life lately, I thought it pertinent to throw some thoughts out there.
The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it...I would discover that it hadn't washed me away — Anne Lamott
At the beginning of October, a couple of weeks before going home to visit my parents for the first time in nearly two-and-a-half years, I had a pretty hard weekend (see here). My mental health was deteriorating. My emotions were raw. My relationships were faltering. Given the onslaught of thoughts and images running through my mind, mostly of self-injury, all I wanted to do was to make it through the moment. I wasn't worried about the weekend, or the day, or the hour, or even the half-hour. Just the moment. If I could get through that, I would be okay.
And I did...
And the next one. And the one after that. And here I am now.
I'm okay today. And I'm thankful for that. Because it's these moments where I can think about what happened. How did I get through? And most importantly, where was God?
Talking with a close friend earlier today over coffee, I shared my thoughts. Rooted in my understanding of process theology (Wikipedia actually has a pretty decent article), survival theology is about coping. It is not a comprehensive theology. It is not meant to be all-encompassing. It is meant for a particular time, and for a particular place in one's life.
Here's the thing: there is great hope in liberation theology that often can feel distant to those in the throes of turmoil and suffering. It is in those moments when I believe something else is needed. Not a savior or a liberator, but something else. Someone else. Someone willing to sit with you in the anxiety and depression and pain. Someone who won't talk your ear off with clichés or platitudes, but will sit there in the absolute silence, awkward as it may be, and wait—wait until you're ready, until you have a little more energy, a little more strength. It is in these times and places, be they deaths, depression, hallucinations, rapes, assaults, or any other moment of sheer agony, that we just might need God to show up and be. No magic tricks. No saving. No liberating. Just sitting down next to us. No consolation. Just presence.
I don't know if my depression will ever fully go away. I'd like to think that it might, but most days, I'm resigned to the fact that it is part of me. Part of how God knows me and reveals Godself to me. Even in those moments where all I can do is survive, white-knuckled, thoughts racing, at least I can know that, for the moment, I'm not alone. That I'm okay. I know that there is still more work to be done on these thoughts, but for now, they will do...