‘Tween the Dark Night and Depression

What is the difference between depression and “dark night of the soul”?

I could post academically minded words about St. John of the Cross (a Carmelite mystic of the 16th century) and his writing, “Dark Night of the Soul” and compare/contrast that with a clinical definition of depression, but that would not suffice.  No, I dare to share the imagery from my own mind as means to express the spiritual dimensions of depression and the dark night of the soul.  I have experienced both.

This is a blog of a spiritual director, a wandering woman in search of self and home.  Then so be it that deeper spaces be publicly explored.  Besides, St. John of the Cross’ feast day is soon: December 14th.  Happy feast of St. John of the Cross…

You see, for me, December—even amidst all the beauty it beholds in wintertime festivities, the contemplative nature of Advent, and the tradition of Christmas time—sometimes brings with it transition, dark days, and depression.  Three times in my life has it been so intense that I have written the visions that have come through meditation, prayer, and during my waking hours.

Continue reading “‘Tween the Dark Night and Depression”


Blessed are the Sorrowing

Some five years ago, I came across a meditation on the Beatitudes.  Though I lost the pages, I did manage to write out part of it in a journal.  This is my prayer tonight—for me and for others in sorrow.  You see, last week I anointed people in my church community at worship.  They came with hurting hearts, troubled souls, physical ailments, internal struggle.  I let go of myself and made room for the Spirit to breathe life into those I prayed with.

Before worship I took a quiet moment to pray for strength and for peace to fill my body and soul.  I was empty that day, in need of healing myself.  I found, that the ministry of praying over others in their need filled me, and it was a blessing.  I found myself in many of the brokenness expressed, and I also found God.  This meditation describes the compassion in my heart…

Blessed are the Sorrowing: They Shall Be Consoled

And what does it mean to mourn? I asked the multitude.
An old man stepped forward

To mourn, he said, is to be given a second heart.
It is to care so deeply
that you show your ache in person

To mourn is to be uanshamed of tears.
It is to be healed
and broken
and built-up
all in the same moment.

Blessed are you if you can minister to others
with a heart that feels
with a heart that hurts
with a heart that loves
and blessed are you if you can minister to others
with a heart that serves
and a heart that sees the need before it’s spoken.

To mourn is to forget yourself for a moment
and get lost in someone else’s pain
and then,
to find yourself
in the very act of getting lost.

To mourn is to be an expert
in the miracle of being careful with another’s pain.

It is to be full of the willingness
of forever reaching out to
and picking up
and holding carefully
those who hurt.

To mourn is to sing with the dying
and to be healed
by the song
and the death.

— Marciana Wiederkehr, OSB

psalm 13. or o god, where are you?

A shrouded pathwhile the waiting continues, i must journey through some rocky terrain.  the job i anxiously awaited did not come into my favor.  that alone is a disappointment—one that heals quickly—yet there is more that ushers in sadness.  a series of events, seemingly falling on top of me in succession has left me confused and disoriented.  it is a season of sadness that will pass.  this i know.  but i wonder, as the psalmist does, “how long, o lord? will you forget me forever?

how long must i wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? how long will my enemy triumph over me?

i do have selfish, negative thoughts.  i fight daily to purge them from my body and mind.  this is why i feel the psalmists cries in psalm 13.  somehow the genuine sadness and grief, and confusion of relationships has turned in on itself and become distorted.

its not solely concerning myself—someone i hold dear to my heart has been violated.  and a friend’s mother has died. i weep for her, i weep for her future, i weep for my friend and his loss, and i hope.  i hope for the justice only god can bring.  but i wonder, as another friend did recently, where is god sometimes?

and i turn to sufjan stevens to accompany me, as he sings, “o god, where are you now?  o lord, say somehow. the devil is hard on my face again.  the world is a hundred to one again.  would the righteous still remain.  would my body stay the same.  o god, hold me now.  o lord, touch me now.  there’s no other man who could save the dead.  there’s no other god to place our head…”

the psalm ends with hope.  that’s where i end, too.

but i trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  i will sing to the lord, for he has been good to me.

amen. so say we all.

On Grief, Part II: to fly away and rise again

fly away

6And I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;

Psalm 55:6-7

Death is frightening to face, and confusing for those still among the living. In mourning we cry out and wonder why…and while death does not make sense, there is meaning in life. Sometimes, however, terror takes over. As I walk through grief for some situations in my life, I remember Psalm 55. In the cold shelter of a somber memorial at the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich, Germany, I read this Psalm. Tears streaming down my face, I mourned for the millions, and reflected on an unimaginable terror. Why did such horrible events take place?

My heart grieves tonight for several reasons–remembering and honoring the dead, my own wounded past, and putting to death some plans that are unattainable. But even in grief, I hope. On a walk today I noticed new life in spring, as little baby ducks swam alongside their parents. With a sigh I wondered about the cycle of life and death, both physiologically and spiritually for us as humans. Life and death. So complex, so confounding. Life does spring where once was death…trees grow, our hearts heal, new relationships form…

While this photo is of tulip buds and not wheat, I am reminded of an easter hymn, Now the Green Blade Rises:

When our hearts are wintry,
grieving, or in pain,
Christ’s touch can call us
back to life again,
fields of our hearts
that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

Love is come again…that is my prayer tonight, that love may come again.  That I may face that which frightens me with courage, and that all who grieve this night may know the spring love rising from the earth.

On Grief, Part I: Death

Bolton Abbey3So, here’s one of the thoughts I’ve been processing: death. Well, actually the larger reality is processing grief. I’ll break it up into a few posts…

Death. It’s a mystery that I cannot comprehend, as hard as I try. It is a part of this life that we humans share, yet its appearance is often shocking, incomprehensible. Why, one asks…

I hope in the resurrection, but sometimes I want to call it all bullshit. Death comes with deep pain, shocking at times, even when it is expected. Numbness takes over the body and mind, a murky haze through which life seems unreal, or even too real. The death of another calls one to confront mortality, that of the self and those we love. The harsh reality of the living in the shadow of death surfaces a fear of the unknown, a fear of being finite, and the question: Is this all there really is? My answer is no, but I am constantly challenged.

As a chaplain intern two years ago, I heard the death rattle in one of the patients, a haunting gurgle of fluid in the throat of one who is about to die, but I was never in the room at the time of a death. I comforted a mother who lost her severely premature infant mere minutes before my arrival. I cried with her, put my hand on her shoulder and said very little. The tiny body lay limp in her hands, as tears streamed down her cheeks. She washed his body and cradled him while I prayed silently over her shoulder. In the presence of death’s ugly face, what is there to say?

A little over two years ago a cousin of mine died suddenly in a car accident. Gone. He was an aspiring pilot, giving lessons with dreams of flying commercial planes, and in his early 20’s. In a split second a head-on car collision shattered those dreams and left the family in shock and utter disbelief. Death leaves a large void where once was vibrant life. It is still shocking to think about.

These memories began to surface last week with an awareness of the coming anniversary of my paternal grandmother’s death. And they have been heightened since hearing last night about another sudden death, this one of my roommates boss. Oh God, where are you now??

Sixteen years ago on May 3rd, 1992, my grandma died; I was a month shy of my 12th birthday. Although her death was not unexpected, it was nonetheless a shock. She had Alzheimer’s disease and six months prior had burned herself in the bathtub.

On the day she died, there was a big race in there (in Spokane, WA). 50,000 people lined the streets to participate in the annual Bloomsday race, a 12k (7.46 mile) course through the streets of Spokane. On this day I was free to run by myself. Grandma, who had been hospitalized since December, was near the end. The plan was to run, meet with relatives who would take me to see grandma–my parents were already there. I ran strong, finished well…quite proud of the accomplishment for an 11-year-old. But her death came sometime as I was finishing or shortly after. I was not able to say goodbye.

Running became a method to process my grief, and it has been a mainstay in my life ever since. The course passes the the cemetery where she (and eight months later my grandpa, too) would be buried. I have run Bloomsday as I am able, this year to be my 11th year–and each time I run past the graveyard I honor them, and whisper my goodbye. That experience was a formative event in my life. although I am not as close to the memory of my grandparents anymore, the woman I am today is shaped in their deaths. Experiencing grief at an early age shocked my senses and enabled me to tap into a deeper part of my soul. The physicality of running to process grief soon helped me to process built up anger and other emotions; now it calls me to rise above, push myself harder as motivation to cope with life’s many mountainous challenges.

And so here I am. Grieving for these losses and living through. Yet, as I wrote above, I have hope. And my love for God and love of life keeps me going, even in the midst of sorrow.

May God comfort all those who grieve this night…