Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Life Out of Death

The light slides across my front yard from a different angle this afternoon and takes on a color that is unique to this time of year. In spite of my grief over the loss of light as we march toward winter, I have to say that what light we do have is beautiful. The movement of the light through the trees half laden with leaves no longer green, stirred the sluggish waters of my soul to declare with my mouth that there is One greater than me. And He is worthy of praise just because He is.

I dug out my running tights and laced up my shoes for what I thought would be an obligatory 30 minute jog down and back on the greenway trail behind my house. I needed exercise, but these days it feels huge to get unstuck from my lethargy long enough to get started out the door.  But, today I made it through the door and to the trail. Surprisingly, I kept going past the end of the trail and onto the pipeline right of way that eventually takes me to the river. It was a beautiful afternoon with the rich variety of autumnal colors and smells drawing me on and into conversation with the One who made the seasonal cycles. I had a lot of not so new things on my heart and mind.

I have been reading a book written by Kent Gilges, entitled A Grace Given. On the front of the book are these word: “There is a blessing sent from God in every burden of sorrow. There is hope in that, hope even in a dying child.” The author tells the story of his first born daughter, Elie, who as an infant had a tumor growing in the middle of her brain. The story weaves through doctors offices, hope springing out of despair through a promising surgery, a near deadly seizure, a long hospital stay, a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, and countless encounters between Elie and her parents, grandparents and others impacted by her dying self over her 10 years of life. Gilges says this of his daughter: “More than a handmaiden, Elie herself is the hand of God, the dove that descends. A child purely innocently and utterly dependent is the gateway to divinity. Elie has been a centering point for God in our family.” pg. 192

I thought about death and dying on my walk/run through the woods along the pipeline. My father died this past spring after  living with cancer for a year and a half. That year and a half was bitter sweet and brought my family many blessings out of sorrow. The greatest blessing we gained was time...time to live and breathe and have our being together. My Father was our centering point for God in our family. He knew where he had come from and where he was going. We were blessed to be with him.

The grief I have experienced since his death and made complicated by other losses coinciding has been dressed in the familiar expressions of depression. For most of my life I have felt the vacillating force and moulding weight of depression. Winston Churchill named his depression “the black dog on my back”. Depression, in it’s endless shapes and forms and degrees of power, seems to always want to destroy one’s life. Sometimes the threat is very real. Depression can be dark and mysterious, wild and potentially deadly. But, today, on my walk, the “black dog” just trotted alongside me, almost manageable. I even felt free to think that this force of death has been for me a “gateway to divinity”.

Today’s display of autumnal creativity comes because of death. In the same way that reduced light and increasing cold yields brilliant variations in color as the leaves finish their season of life, I found myself allowing for the truth that there are some beautiful results of the lessening light and the cold passages through my seasons of depression.

I watched a movie last night in which a woman was caught up by a tsunami and the raging waters carried her through the small town. At one point she crashes headfirst into a submerged structure. Her life ebbs away and the waters drag her under. What she “sees” as she is dying cannot be described to others after being resuscitated. Yet, she has been transformed. Her death and encounter with that which is beyond death transfigures her. Others think she is crazy. She is forced into a place that isolates her. In a similar way, depression, in its greatest strength, is like being overwhelmed and dragged down and under with a sense that your life is ebbing away. You feel isolated and alone. You feel blind and powerless, helpless and desperate. You struggle and thrash. Sometimes fear runs rampant and screams at you in many voices at the same time. And then sometimes you crash. The struggle is over. The fighting stops. It is in this passing through to surrender that you see the light and afterwards nothing is quite the same.

Of course life with depression is full of these life/death/life experiences. Sometimes the “dying” lasts for days or months or longer. All the while, you are reminded that the “black dog” can never be tamed completely in this life. But, of course, you have to try. You have to pay attention. Consistent efforts to discipline must be practiced. Medications must be dispensed. You research the best ways to train him. You pay out lots of money for the latest whisperer class. You blame your husband for creating the monster. You blame anyone and everyone and every circumstance. Mostly, you blame yourself.

But, it is possible the black dog, the powerless child, or the drowning self leads you to a place that otherwise you might never see. You catch a glimpse of life after death...full of faith, hope, and love as everlasting truths. Promises become greater than reality. Then, you know. You have to believe. Not to believe will give power to death. In believing, you begin to see the One who creates beauty through the dying. You know Him when He draws alongside and partners in the suffering. You know He has been that way before. He walks with you amidst the fire. He goes down into the deep water ahead of you. He finds you in your misery. He releases your feet from the snare. He saves you from your shame. He is greater than your body chemistry. He is the Potter, you are the clay. He turns your mourning into dancing. He is the One greater.


  1. Thanks, for this, Ann. Always enjoy your thoughts.

    ~ Alice

  2. everyone fears knowing what lies beyond death. we reduce our fears to fables. "oh, the gates are wide on the other side/just beyond the sunset scene./there'll be room to spare when we enter there/room for you, and room for me..." (a song sung by iris dement) when someone has a near-death experience, it challenges the fragility of our own faith. a dying dominican friar some years ago, just days before his death, said "now i get to see whether we've been right." perhaps depression is the paralysis that comes from knowing we really don't know, irrespective of our faith, and mania is the conviction that we do. sanity, of course, lies somewhere in between, both on the way up and on the way down.

    thanks, ann. you write so beautifully, like an almost transparent length of glittering indian silk.

  3. Ann, I love your metaphor of the little black dog trotting beside you, almost manageable. You are a gifted writer.
    Prayers and blessings,