The unsigned leaflet reads “Today come as high as you can, and God will meet you on the rest of the journey”. It’s the quote that I refer to when I feel emotional darkness – depression. For many of us, this darkness is an old friend, the Black Dog mentioned by Winston Churchill, or seasonal affective disorder.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) reports the clinical definitions of depression, and also the spiritual darkness of which Saint John of the Cross writes in the Dark Night. Regardless of how you came to the depressive state, the key to both types of darkness is reaching out.
The state of darkness and depression is not a void, but a space full of ideas for which we are momentarily blind. When we try to go on alone, we are often too tired to avoid throwing ourselves down, and we end up succumbing to the waves of despair.
Protecting oneself is not an intuitive movement when we sink psychologically and / or spiritually into depression. Although we have been taught that depression is turning away from God – which is a sin -, there is another element that is often overlooked. It derives from the Rule of St. Benedict: “In all things, be glorified God”.
In a recent confession, when I was in a period of depression, the priest gave me a very specific penance: I had to read the passage where Jesus walks on the stormy sea and Peter is afraid (Matthew 14, 30-31), and then reflect on the moment when Peter desperately tries to reach out to the Lord – the second before Jesus takes his hand.
For Peter it was a dark and doubtful moment, and his faith had faltered. It was also an intuitive response to a person who was physically sinking – reaching out, trying to hold on to anything to save his life.
The penitence that the priest gave me had to make me meditate. It was a metaphor to reach out to the hand of Christ psychologically and spiritually. I was surprised by how quickly the instinct to survive on a spiritual level meets the desire to live physically when one is exhausted and in deep water.
Certain that the Lord had taken my hand and therefore I would not have drowned, I often read this prayer, sometimes even three times in a row:
Stay with me Lord, because it is necessary to have You present so as not to forget You. You know how easily I abandon you.
Stay with me Lord, because I am weak and I need Your fortress not to fall so many times.
Stay with me Lord, because You are my life and without You I come less in fervor.
Stay with me Lord, to show Me your will.
Stay with me Lord, because I want to love You and always be in Your company.
Stay with me Lord, if you want me to be faithful to you.
Stay with me Jesus, because although my soul is very poor, it desires to be for you a place of consolation, a nest of love.Amen.
Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Prayer after Communion
Depression is a battle, and for some a cross to bear a lifetime. Taking it as best as we can when seeking help, we are led to a deeper maturity of faith – which like most virtues is not easy to win.