24 May 2010

Living my Calling means Living IN Community (sigh)

It's been quite a long time since I've written here.  The reason is a depression that had been dogging my every step for months, that finally sapped my strength and took me down.  It took me away from meeting, my friends, my work, nature, and most things I enjoyed, before I realized I wasn't just going to "buck up," that  I needed a little extra help in the form of doctors and medication, and that spiritually I'd been doing just about the opposite of the things I'd been needing to do to get the help I needed.  As I get a little more fluent in the metaphor of the Bible and other religious language, I realize that the devil really did have me, and demons were separating me from the One that could heal me.  I also was making matters worse by believing the voices in my head that were telling me that I would only make everyone and everything worse by inflicting myself on my my worship community.  I was better off home in bed.

This is significant and bears talking about.  This morning, as I read Philip Gulley's Monday morning refreshment, Passages (http://philipgulley.org/Secure%20Sermon/Passages%201.pdf) he was talking about driving the state highways instead of the interstates, and finding the milemarkers that remind us of the historic events that happened there.  Drawing parallels to the historic markers of our own lives, he drew me back to a time I got off the interstate in Wheeling WV and decided to take the scenic state highway to discover the more interesting state roads in my new home of West-by-god-Virginia.  I was totally unprepared for the heights and depths of unguard-railed roads to which this detour would take me.  Eight and one half hours later, on an otherwise 2.5 hour interstate worth of drive, we drove down into a holler. 

Greeted by a state policeman, who told use he was checking cars for drunk drivers and licenseless locals, I remember my first thought was fear, as in memories of Deliverance.  Our green-gilled children peeled themselves off the floor and peered over the headrests to whine, "Where arrrrre we?"   The sheriff, in his flat-top haircut, holding his hard-brim cowboy hat, said, "Whyyy, Welcome to Possum Holler, Yung-uns!"  We'd long since missed my missed my uncle's funeral on the eastern shore of Maryland, and we stil had 3 or 4 hours more to the eastern panhandle, and without this fine officer's help, we would never have navigated the terrain to the nearest straight road, or eaten solid food again.

That's a lot like my journey this winter.  I had a lot of plans for the hibernating months, for redecorating, crafting, writing, cleaning and visiting.  As my spirits plummeted, I checked them off the list, and in my denial, I told myself they weren't that important.  I cancelled committee meetings, and as I grew more aggravated with what felt now like demands, not requests, I rationalized that the committees of our meeting out to snap to it, and do the works they were supposed to and not leave it all to the clerk.  Instead of seeking refuge in the meeting, I hid out.

When I was pursuing my pastoral counseling degree, I learned a great phrase, "regression in the service of the ego."  It means that when we get stressed, we go back to our earlier ways of coping, to take care of our selves.  In my case, as I got more and more depressed, I went back to the ways I coped at younger and younger ages.  Finally I reached my youngest memories, as an early reader.  When my parents would fight, I would take the family flashlight, hide under the covers, and read.

Well, let me tell you, at the end of this depression I was up to five five-hundred page mysteries per week, plus a non-fiction book or two thrown in so I could say I was doing real work.  It was great.  I read Sharyn McCrumb's Appalachian mysteries and caught myself up on some of the great tales of which the great Appalachian ballads are made.  I read all the NY bestsellers and most of their previous bestsellers.  I read the obscure writers that people write obscure reviews about.  I re-read my favorite, Irene Allen's Quaker series set at Cambridge Mass MM.  I read every, yes every Jonathan Kellerman Alex Delaware Forensic Psychologist (my hero) mystery.

Finally, I ran out of mysteries and money.  So I had to start re-reading non fiction favorites.  Among them was Thomas Kelley and Parker Palmer.  This is the kind of thing that brings you to remember that the God our our Understanding (Thank you God!) is still working even when our bodies are not.  I was re-reading A Hidden Wholeness when I discovered the words:

A strong community helps people develop a sense of true self, for only in community can the self exercise and fulfill its nature:  giving and taking, listening and speaking, being and doing.  But when community unravels and we lose touch with one another, the self atrophies and we lose touch with ourselves as well.  Lacking opportunities to be ourselves in a web of relationships, our sense of self disappears, leading to behaviors that further fragment our relationships and spread the epidemic of inner emptiness. (p. 39)


I felt a little green, like my kids looked when we drove out of those mountains.  Not only had I made a wrong turn somewhere, but in thinking I'd taken a better way, I had misjudged and thrown myself sooooo far off course, that it was difficult to see the way back.

I needed help.  That much was clear.

I went to a few different places.  First was a doctor for the obvious medical advice and attention.
Second, I sent out a note to my clearness committee.  I said, "I've been suffering from depression, and I really need some support.  I'm seeking medical help, but I need help to get back on track with my ministry, my place in meeting, and I need to be accountable to you all."
They responded promptly and graciously and my anxiety came down about 100 points as soon as that meeting was scheduled.  Clearly we should not be on this voyage called life alone.

Among the many other things I read in A Hidden Wholeness was a story about a man who attended Parker's Circle of Trust Retreat for many season's and was silent for them.  In keeping with the parameters of the Circle of Trust, he was not pushed to speak or respond or participate beyond what felt safe for him.  This helped me to see that what I needed was to attend meeting, to be a part of the Light that I always feel when I am in corporate worship, and that I needed to completely remove any inner or external pressure I might feel, from myself, in order to allow myself to bask in healing Light, so that healing might occur as could, beyond what my intellect could imagine.  In other words, I needed to return to meeting for worship.

As many of you may know, when one has broken the habit of going to weekly worship, returning to it is easier said than done.  This may be the strongest case for going every week.  Spiritual discipline carries with it the simplest measure, that if we are in the habit, when we need it we will go because it is simply what we do.  Now, it was NOT what I did, so I had to apply some measure of strength against the demons and voices to get myself to move in the direction of firstday worship.  I had to quiet my anger against individuals who had annoyed or agitated me, quiet my demons who had pained my joints, vexed my body, slowed my musles, and simply move slowly in the direction of the meeting.  I told myself, I do not have to speak, I do not have to be sociable, I do not have to be Nice, I simply have to sit and listen.  And I went.

I arrived early, I sat and I closed my eyes, so that I would not have to explain or say hello, or do anything I was not prepared to do.  And God was there waiting!  I fell instantly into deep prayerful worship, and felt a deep sense of relief as I heard the footfalls of those entering after me.  I felt the spirits of those gone before entering too.  I knew when certain elders entered, I could feel their particular sense fill the meeting.  It felt like home.  I felt loved and held, and I began to weep.
Thoughts began to flow, and scripture, and I tried to release each thought and let it flow.  The feeling the returned again and again was gratitude.

I am so very, very blessed.  I have a place to come home to.  In a harsh land, full of harsh realities, of death and poverty and war and darkness, I have a community that spans the globe, that seeks to be peaceful and simple and to live with integrity.  And though I may be overcome with life at times, all that I need to be restored is to worship as one among you, that I may know the God of our understanding and dwell in the Peace that passeth all understanding.