preached Aug 17th, 2014
They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when [Jesus] had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’
For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us enter them.’ So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it.Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
Oh, God, I wish it were that easy. I wish that a heartfelt prayer and faith would just will away the demons of mental illness and addiction all the things that really plague us and those we love. Obviously in the the scriptural case the illness of the Gerasene man was incapacitating, outwardly shown by his inability to clothe himself or find a place to live other than the graveyard. Obviously his community tried to restrain him, oust him, and prevent him from acting upon himself and his illness. They couldn’t do anything more. They aren’t Jesus.
For those hurting, today, though… it isn’t always so obvious. It rarely is. Robin Williams’ death has brought up awareness, trauma, and grief for so many, and shows how pain isn’t always immediately recognizable. Like Robin, most people living with mental illness have no outward signs. Yet one in four adults is living with some sort of mental illness. 1
Depression and mental illness can be like an invisible weight between one and the world, separating self from emotion, thought, feeling… entering into a nothingness. It doesn’t matter what riches one has, or doesn’t have… what one is capable of or where one lives… it can be there, too. Further, the added weight of the stigma around getting help or going to therapy or reaching out has been heavy handed, though I believe it’s gradually lifting.
For those of us with the privilege of mental wellness, it doesn’t make sense. We don’t get it. We simply can’t. We’re so used to a quick-fix, so the scripture’s “send it into the pigs” method seems so… attractive. But still today, we aren’t Jesus. Other than to be there, be present, and with love gently help those hurting to the people trained to help, it seems we can’t do much else. For those who are people of action, it’s so frustrating to not have an immediate plan and response.
God, I wish depression wasn’t a thing that daily weighs down some, and some I love, incapacitating them and driving them closer and closer to…. what? The cliff? It’s overwhelming. And terrifying. And for some, the cliff is so very, very close.
The Comic book the Watchmen tells this supposed “joke:” Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says “But Doctor… I am Pagliacci.” 2-Watchmen
Except the joke’s not funny. When Robin Williams died, it felt for a moment that Hope was gone. All week, I’ve found myself almost randomly letting tears flow over small things, because it feels so deeply affective, when I’m brave enough to take my head out of the sand and see what’s going on all across the world. Human lives taken through depression and mental illness and senseless violence. Robin felt not so far from us, having kept us company for decades in film, bringing us to laughter and tears. For others, the reality of depression is so very close.
I have no idea what God is doing in these moments of pain and panic, depression and emptiness. Not a clue. I do have faith that God is there. Further I have faith that this is not the first time that Christ has seen this kind of stuff, or even experienced it in the dark night himself, calling out his own emptiness, loneliness, and despair unto God. I confess, there have been moments this past week where I’ve reached out to God for help.
I am privileged, though, to feel hope. To know the certainty that it will get better. I am privileged to know that these moments of pain and grief will pass.
And for some, this is not the case. For some, hope is this distant, elusive, thing that people talk at them about… it’s flown the coop of Pandora’s box out into the wind, leaving behind….. emptiness. My hope is that Robin’s death continues his legacy and inspires those who are hurting deeply to reach out for help, for support, for treatment. To continue the journey to wellness, the process to their own wholeness.
Those who give care and professional help to people living with overwhelming depression speak of “hope in escrow….” Even though hope seems lost or evasive, it is our job to hold it in care for the wounded, until they are ready to see hope themselves again. Tenderly, so tenderly, hold the hope close to our own hearts for those we love. We can’t send it all away, or perform miracles. We can’t take on and thus will away the pain of another. We can offer to hold their hope, and, too, offer that to the One Who Holds Hope for Us All, for when we are ready to see it ourselves.
For me, I know faith is involved, here, too. Where I can’t see the hope, I know that God has my hope in escrow. I know that Christ, knowing the depths of despair himself, still holds hope for the human race, for us, for our future. There’s the Good News, isn’t it? That even here, with all our confusion, our apathy, our bitterness, our rage, pain, our despair, even with our depression and our mental illness, with all we have and all we are; all this we offer in prayer to One who Knows already. The poet Elizabeth Cunningham reveals Truth:
(Praying the heart by Elizabeth Cunningham)
You can only pray what’s in your heart.
So if your heart is being ripped from your chest
pray the tearing
if your heart is full of bitterness
pray it to the last dreg
if your heart is a river gone wild
pray the torrent
or a lava flow scorching the mountain
pray the fire
pray the scream in your heart
the fanning bellows
pray the rage,
the murder and
pray your heart into the great quiet hands that can hold it
like the small bird it is. 3
This is what we have. The emotions on heart of the events of the world and of our community and of our lives…. and this is what we offer to God to hold for us. Even where it seems that depression is robbing hope, God is here. We pray that even in the midst of…. all this…. even when it feels empty and lonely and overwhelming, even when it seems as though hope himself is killed off, Christ reaches out his wounded hands in so much love and compassion, holding the most tender thing of all: hope.
3 Cunningham, Elizabeth. Small Bird. Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 1999.