#Uvalde, Texas, Bewilderment, Birdsong, Consolation, Leo Tolstoy, Melancholia, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley

Melancholia and Consolation

Overlayed photos by Jeremy Bishop and Christian Holzinger on Unsplash.

I don’t like feeling melancholy. The feeling is just too tentative and unspecific. Trying to get free of melancholia is not an easy feat. You can curse it and yank it around trying to break it. You can throw big rocks at it or try to drown it in a bathtub. But it is so uncatchable. You can’t get your hands around it, and if you do, you can’t hold on to it. It just slips away from you before you know it. You cannot control melancholia. Perhaps you cannot even get consolation from it.

Other states of mind are more responsive to being removed or conquered or broken or even thrown out. Sadness, anger, rage—those you can eventually grab and choke out. Melancholia is enduring and constant, and it can hold you hostage for undetermined amounts of time, making a nest in you and dwelling there without your permission. Relentless, hardy, pervasive, persistent!

Understand this: I am not writing about melancholia as a clinical depressive episode and I’m certainly not trying to scientifically classify melancholia in a range of psychiatric disorders. I simply mean to unravel the threads of the state of being of feeling trapped inside melancholia.

I know there are circumstances that brought me here this week, not the least of which is that I have experienced a full week of a severe stomach virus. And then, there is the constant news reporting of horrible cases of gun violence. In fact, ABC News published this troubling statement about gun violence on May 31, 2022: “374 deaths and 782 injuries over the past week.”

I cannot help but weep about the terrible loss of nineteen children, two teachers, one teacher’s husband, and the perpetrator of the murders in #Uvalde, Texas.

I cannot help but be emotionally moved by the gift a Texas man gave the grieving families. Trey Ganem refused to be paid for the 19 hand-painted caskets. (Picture: SoulShine Industries)


Have these circumstances resulted in my feeling melancholy? I’m not sure. Melancholia might not primarily be situational. Rather, it might be embedded in a person’a psyche and brought to the heart by a gloomy, cold morning in winter, or a long-lived rainstorm, or a gloomy, foggy night without a smidgen of light. Perhaps melancholia can come upon a person by a sad movie, by hearing a hauntingly beautiful requiem, by the melodic strains of birdsong, or the somber sounds of a viola.

Melancholia is rather unexplainable for me. When it takes over my psyche from time to time, I feel multiple emotions. Not just a depression-like sadness, but also a lump-in-the-throat nostalgic feeling. I think that’s what’s going on with me right now. Truthfully, I have found the best description of melancholia in the words of Leo Tolstoy.

There is something so enchanting in the smile of melancholy. It is a ray of light in the darkness, a shade between sadness and despair, showing the possibility of consolation.

— Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

It does feel to me like ”a shade between sadness and despair.” Whatever melancholy is, however it comes to me, whatever it feels like and whenever it visits me, I like Tolstoy’s phrase about melancholy ”showing the possibility of consolation.” In my mind, that is the Godsend part of it: that when I feel the emotion “between sadness and despair,” covered in a misty veil of melancholy, God’s holy way is that consolation is always possible. Always!

The Apostle Paul has the last word in the beautiful blessing he wrote to the church in Corinth:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.

— 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NRSV

Thanks be to God.

Bravery, Brokenness, Calamity, grief, Images, Lament, Oppression, Prayer, Suffering, Ukraine, War, Weeping

A Moment of Lament for Ukraine

Because many words have been written,
poetry has spoken mourning,
music has resounded hope,
and prayers have given voice to deep lament —
I offer these images.

In your moments of prayer and reflection, please join the people of the world who pray for the people of Ukraine. Perhaps this music will enhance your time of prayer and remind you of the tragedy of war and the finality of violence.

He shall judge among the nations,
    and shall rebuke many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    nor shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah 2:4 MEV

Hope, Sorrow, Despair, Comfort, Brokenness, Emotions, discouragement, Disconsolate, Depression, Come, Ye Disconsolate

A Lenten Invitation . . . Come, Ye Disconsolate


“Come, Ye Disconsolate” is one of my favorite hymns. You might ask why. In every person’s life, there are times of sorrow that fall very deeply into the soul. There is a sense in which deep sorrow communes with us like no other emotion. Being disconsolate can be a beautiful experience.

It is a beautiful word — disconsolate — a word full of depth and full of meaning. Yet, it is not a word we often use. It sounds a bit like an ”old” word to me, perhaps more widely used in decades past. The definition? According to Merriam-Webster, the word disconsolate means “cheerless.” I don’t find enough soul angst in that definition, but the word has many soulful synonyms.


Synonyms for disconsolate can be as heart-rending as the word itself: downcast, inconsolable, dispirited, desolate, crushed, despairing, destroyed, despondent, hopeless, heartbroken ~
comfortless


So many words, so full of sorrow. Still, I love the word disconsolate. It has been my companion on many a journey and, although I did not welcome it as an emotion, I learned to own it, which is surely the most important way to have full awareness of your spirit. The truth is, when one is disconsolate, it is an opportunity to imagine being wrapped tenderly with a soft blanket of hope. Wrapped completely, face-under-the-covers wrapped!

How can such a word remind me of a soft blanket tenderly wrapped around me? How can the soft cover be called a blanket of hope? I will offer one reason that is a personal story about my friend and colleague in ministry, Donna. When I was desperately ill with end stage kidney disease, Donna came to visit me in the hospital often. Many of those visits I can’t remember, but she came one day holding a gift in her hands. The gift was a fluffy, white crocheted blanket that her entire congregation had prayed over as they petitioned God to restore me to health.

Every time, from that day to this, that I covered myself with that blanket, I would think of Donna and her church members and their act of love and concern. I imagined them nearby and sensed their prayers becoming a part of my soul’s lament. They did not leave me comfortless.

Whenever I feel disconsolate, comfortless, it helps me to remember these words from the Gospel of John, one of the most beautifully poignant passages in all of scripture:

16 And I will pray to God who will send you
another Comforter who will abide with you forever, the Spirit of truth;
Sadly, the world cannot accept the Comforter,
because it does not truly see her or know her.
But you know her; for she dwells with you, and shall be in you.

18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
19 In a little while, the world will see me no more;
but you see me: because I live, you shall live also.

25 These things have I spoken unto you while I am still present with you.

26 But the Comforter — the Holy Spirit — God will send in my name,

and the Spirit will teach you all things,
and bring all things to your remembrance, all the things I have said to you.

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you:
I do not give you peace as the world gives,

Instead I give you peace as if it were from God.
And so, my beloved children, do not let your heart be troubled,
neither let your heart be afraid.
— Jesus, recorded in John 14: 16-19; 25-27, paraphrased


During the times I felt disconsolate through the years, I have always been able to rest under the comforting wings of the Spirit, the Comforter who is with me always. Yes, it is true that many times my heart was troubled and afraid. The words of Jesus did not always repair the state of my heart or diminish my fear. But the promise of Jesus — that I would not be left comfortless — soothed and strengthened my heart.

The words of this hymn held for me a depth of meaning that has spoken comfort and truth to my disconsolate spirit — every time — easing my suffering and leaving me with hope.

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish; 
come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel. 
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; 
earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal. 

Joy of the desolate, light of the straying, 
hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure! 
Here speaks the Comforter, in mercy saying, 
“Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot cure.”

Here see the bread of life; see waters flowing 
forth from the throne of God, pure from above. 
Come to the feast prepared; come, ever knowing 
earth has no sorrow but heaven can remove.
Thomas Moore (1779-1852)

I have experienced the “joy of the desolate” many times. It is a joy that fills my heart, in spite of how deeply desolate I feel. As for what this all means during this Lenten season. For me, it means that a Lenten experience can help me see the ”light of the straying,” and that I will experience the ”hope of the penitent” and once again hear the words of the Comforter “in mercy saying, ‘Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot cure.’”

From this time forth and forevermore. Amen.

As you spend a few quiet moments during this Second Week of Lent, the following video of this moving hymn may give you peace and hope.

The Georgia Boy Choir singing “Come, Ye Disconsolate” arranged by Terre Johnson.
This performance was recorded on July 24, 2021,
during the regional concert tour at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon, Georgia.

Grace, Hope, Potter, Potter’s clay, Remolding and remaking

Gentle, Intentional Remolding

The Potter

We could have a long conversation about the potter’s messy hands, about the mud under his nails, about the strength of hands that look as if they are using every muscle to shape the pot. We would probably talk about the dynamic force of his hands that hold the pot lightly enough to form it, but controlled enough to avoid marring or damaging it.

In our conversation, we would probably remember the prophet Jeremiah’s encounter with a potter and the ways we have used that passage of scripture over the years. I don’t know about you, but my teachers and preachers used this text to teach me about the ways God can mold me into a worthy vessel that can hold enough faith and hope to get me through the hard times. Plus, being remolded would mean I was being ”obedient to God!”

We certainly do not want to use scripture out of its historical context, but another use of a scripture passage is to consider its imagery, its symbolism and its relevance to us in a given life situation. The following scripture, as translated in The Voice, contains a powerful section after verse 1 that tells us how God’s message comes through a prophetic drama played out at a potter’s wheel, and that there, the prophet sees an ordinary event from which he receives an extraordinary message.

The word of the Eternal came to Jeremiah

Now God’s message comes through another prophetic drama played out in a potter’s shop somewhere in the city. The prophet sees an ordinary event but receives an extraordinary message.

Eternal One: Go down to the potter’s shop in the city, and wait for My word.

So I went down to the potter’s shop and found him making something on his wheel.

And as I watched, the clay vessel in his hands became flawed and unusable. So the potter started again with the same clay. He crushed and squeezed and shaped it into another vessel that was to his liking.  
                              —
Jeremiah 18:1-4 (The VOICE)

I cannot help but remember the many times throughout my life that this passage was interpreted as a potter (God) forming me. The message inevitably moved to the part where ”God is not pleased with me and is trying to remold me into a more worthy vessel for God’s glory.” Not the best biblical message we could glean from Jeremiah’s drama! Not only that, but I don’t much like the idea of the potter ”crushing, squeezing and shaping” me.

The best truth is that God does remold us in so many ways, gently and intentionally, so that we are always in the process of change and growth. In our case, the God who loves us just as we are, also holds us, as if in a potter’s hands. Though this passage does speak of serious remolding, it never indicates that the potter throws the damaged pot into the trash pile.

It is true that we are damaged again and again in this life, but God loves who we are, and like the potter, God gently remolds us along the way, creating of us the best we can be. God never throws us away, no matter how severe our damage — damage on the outside, visible to all; and on the inside, where the deepest damage rests, in the soul and spirit. Visible to no one, excruciatingly visible to us.

We can choose to be like clay in the potter’s hands, allowing a gentle God to remold us, repair our damaged life, and empower us to be new, remade. This sounds like hope to me, and grace.

This is Jeremian’s story, his vision. He sees it as an ordinary event that graces us with an extraordinary message. Jeremiah’s story is ours to ponder and to ask ourselves if there is any damage to us or in us. If you sometimes view yourself as damaged, seek help from someone you trust — a friend or family member, a therapist, a spiritual director, your minister.

And remember, the potter is always near for gentle remolding.

Despair, Fear, Hope, Life Journeys, Life pathways

When There Was No Road

Superior National Forest emcompasses much of the Northeastern corner of Minnesota and is bordered by Lake Superior to the east, Canada to the North. Hiking trail to Eagle Mountain

Hope is like a road in the country;
there was never a road, but when many people walk on it,
the road comes into existence.

Author, poet, critic and Chinese literary giant Lu Xun. (Lu was a pen name; his real name was Zhou Shuren.)

I have stumbled upon places where there was no road and no way to move forward. I am mulling over the poet’s affirmation that ”Hope is like a road in the country.” I know a little about hope, a little less about country roads, and even less about walking trails in a forest. I also know many, many people who hang on to hope through every narrow, rocky path they encounter. These hope-filled ones follow the path ahead of them and persist on their journey, in spite of the reality that the path is steep, arduous and sometimes not beaten down enough to walk on.

That’s the important thing about paths—that travelers might walk on one for years when it is barely passable, beating it down for smoother walking. It’s called a beaten path. I imagine you have walked some beaten paths.


Even I have walked a few, like when I was just a wee girl. The path for me was a short one, but nevertheless ominous. It went from my back yard to Miss Martha’s back yard next door. But wait! You must know that the path also led us to Miss Martha’s plum tree, filled with delicIous plums just waiting for my brothers and me to devour. We felt hope every time we got to the tree and began to shake it so that the plums would come tumbling to the ground. We hoped—until we heard Miss Martha’s shrill, frightening voice yelling, ”Get away from my plum tree!”

Because we so feared Miss Martha, hearing her loud voice chastening us made us run immediately home and into the house. We also knew she would tell our Yiayiá (grandmother), and we feared that too. Like Miss Martha, Yiayia could give rise in us the most daunting fear of all. We hoped for plums that day, but got fear instead.

Fear can be the enemy of hope, which brings us back to our path. The poet says to us that hope is like a country road. While reading the poet’s words, I imagine reaching a place where is no road and no way forward—a situation of facing a path without much hope. But there is hope after all! Because many people had walked on the path, it was eventually beaten down. Now the people could travel on with hope. There was an open way, a possible path. There was hope.

What’s the message in this parable-like tale? Just this. All of us walk a journey that leads us to pleasant places as well as to sorrowful and terrible places. No one can make the pilgrimage we call life without encountering rough and rocky roads and impassable paths along the way. They are the places that hold the power to steal our hope and leave us paralyzed.

I know how it feels to lose hope. I have known abuse, violence, illness, betrayal, loss, grief. And I have known it first hand, these things that took my hope. I can also bear witness that my hope has returned many times, just in time, but not before I had to struggle with the real, deep despair of absent hope. When I stood at the entrance of the way where there was no way, at the beginning of the path that was impassable and impossible, I often thought of this testimony of hope and faith found in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9; 16-17.

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed;
we are perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
cast down, but not destroyed . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart.
Even though we are outwardly perishing,
the inner place in us is being renewed day by day.

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment,
is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

Yes, you and I may feel cast down and almost crushed by the weight of the world. We may feel the strongest despair. But we must know that, even on this day of threats and pandemics, some of our paths will be smooth and passable. We will feel hope when we least expect it. Hope will surprise us and flood us with grace, directly at the juncture of our despair. A beaten path might appear before us today—right now—and invite us to travel from fear to hope.

May it be so for all of us.

A way in the wilderness, Alone, Bewilderment, Comfort, Dry seasons of life, Exclusion, Exhaustion, Hope

A Door of Hope

How often we find ourselves wandering in what feels like wilderness. We wander, and then wander some more, in barren places — in parched, dusty and dry deserts of the soul. We wander in aimless travel that moves us from one nowhere to another. The truth is that we have been nowhere and we’re going nowhere.

It’s a long, hard way, this wilderness wandering. I have found myself there at times. You probably know the desert, too. Like the people of Israel, we don’t much like wilderness wanderings. Remember their laments and complaints?

The Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them.
They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.
They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt
that you brought us to the desert to die?
What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’?
It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Exodus 14:10-12 (NIV)

Other Biblical passages speak more favorably about walking in a desert wilderness and about finding there comfort and hope. One of my favorite passages is rather obscure, so I want to share it with you.

The Lord said, “Therefore, I will now persuade Israel,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
From there I will give her her vineyards,
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
Hosea 2:14-23 (NRSV)

Finding ourselves wandering in a parched and barren desert can cause us to feel, not only exhaustion, but also exclusion. How bewildering it is when we are excluded, left alone to wander and feeling that no one is near, no one hears our laments, no one cares. My hope for you this day is that, whenever you have to wander in the wilderness, you will find on your way a friend beside you and at the end of your path, a door of hope.

I leave you with these words, a benediction spoken by a dear friend.

Covid-19, Disconsolate, discouragement, Faith, Holy Spirit, Hope, Isolation, Social distancing, Spirit, Spirit wind

Just Gray!

5A2EB8AE-EAB9-4CD6-9915-CBFC3BBE670F
“Grays” A watercolor painting by Kathy Manis Findley
https://kalliopeswatercolors.com/

Sometimes some things don’t work! Like today as I am trying to insert the image for this post. It’s a watercolor painting I did a couple of years ago titled “Grays.” I don’t remember what was gray about that day or why I felt surrounded by gray, but I know that something was troubling about the day.

Like today! No, it’s definitely not gray outdoors. No gray skies above while the sun is shining brightly. Yet, I feel the “gray” closing in on me today, and for the past few days. News of the world’s hurt certainly has something to do about it. I can’t bear to hear of the spike in Covid cases, the danger of the Delta variant, exhausted health care providers gasping for relief, maltreated children at the overcrowded migrant center in Fort Bliss, Texas. I can hardly bear to hear another report about my friend who is very ill or about another friend I spoke to this morning who lost two love ones this week.

It feels gray in me right now. I think the gray feeling has a lot to do with the chat I had with my nephrologist at Mayo Clinic this week. He was beyond concerned about our current pandemic situation for his transplant patients. Of course, I am one of those patients. He was adamant that we immunosuppressed patients must begin isolating again immediately.

So again, the outlook for me is bleak. Not only am I one of his patients who are on high doses of immunosuppressant medications, but also I am one of the people for whom vaccines are not very effective. So while the general vaccinated public is around 90% protected from the virus, we are 50% (or less) protected. My doctor ordered an antibody test and, sure enough, it revealed that I have zero antibodies, which means I am not protected from Covid and that I can infect others.

I think that means retreating again from public gatherings — from stores, from groups of friends, from medical offices, from church. The time I was so looking forward to — seeing my grandchildren — is now a more distant possibility. All of that looks pretty darn gray to me!

I know in the depths of my soul that there are no simple answers for the gray times, the times when I am disconsolate and despondent. I know that I cannot change every adverse circumstance of my life. I know, too, that we cannot always change our soul’s response to those difficult circumstances. Sometimes, the “gray” of despondency simply has its way in me, and I cannot pull myself up and out. Sometimes I feel as if I am in a desert wilderness, and although streams of water may be there, I do not find them.

In such times, I have found that my ability to hold on to my very self comes directly from the Spirit, who is my sure and certain comforter. And I have learned that, while Holy Scripture and contemplative space do not always mysteriously rescue me or magically change my circumstance, I receive the peace and strength I need to live.

Jesus said to them:
“I must leave you, but I will ask God,
and our Mother snd Father God will give you another Comforter.
This Comforter will stay with you forever. 
She is the Spirit, who reveals all that is true and real about God. . . .
So when I go, you will not be left all alone . . .
I leave my peace with you. I give my peace to you.
So do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not be afraid.”

John 14:1, 16-18, 27 (my translation)


My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26


May you find that Spirit wind is moving gently within your spirit, and may God be the strength of your heart forever. Amen

Comfort, Faith, Hope, Preaching, Whispers of God

Whispers of God

Word cloud by Kathy Manis Findley

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.

Joel 2:28 NRSV

Because I am an ordained Baptist minister, I followed a path that made hearing the whispers of God necessary. I heard God whisper to me on many a dark day. So I am fairly certain about it when I do hear the whisper of God. Only that kind of holy whisper could cause one to face off about ordination with a patriarchal system. But truth be told, I did accept that face-off almost forty years ago. And I persisted through a long season of unkind challenges and lengthy treatises about all the reasons a woman could not be ordained.

In the end, I was ordained. I am deeply grateful to have experienced a rich and varied ministry through those years, including serving as pastor of two churches. I preached every Sunday, real sermons. You might say — borrowing the words of the prophet Joel — that I “prophesied.”

Oh, my!
God whispered. I followed. It’s just that simple.

The truth is that throughout my life, I have heard the whispers of God many times. God’s whispers were just for my hearing, sometimes to comfort me, sometimes to gently correct my steps, sometimes to encourage me, sometimes to lift my spirits, sometimes to show me a vision and sometimes to call me to a mission, like prophesying or preaching.

I have learned a very important life lesson: that when I am grieving, confused, sorrowful, hurt, betrayed, beaten down . . . God’s whispers give me hope. When I am disheartened, God’s whispers touch me with healing. When mourning has stolen my songs, God’s whispers move me to sing again.

I am reminded of the inspiring words of Rev. Dr. Prathia Laura Ann Hall (1940-2002), an undersung leader in both the civil rights movement, womanist thought, social justice and African American theology. These are her words:

Out there in the brush arbors, the wilderness, and the woods, the God of our ancestors, the God we had known on the other side of the waters met us and whispered words in our ears, and stirred a song in our souls . . . 

– Prathia Hall, Quoted by Courtney Pace in Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall

Right now, I am in “the wilderness and the woods.” In other words, I am in a shaky place. I need that quiet, familiar, sacred sound of God whispering in my ear. I wonder if maybe you, too, need to hear that sacred whisper that can make all the difference. Wherever you are, however you feel, in whatever place you are in your life, in whatever way you experience God, I pray that you will listen closely for the holy whispers you need to hear.

anxiety, Bewilderment, Depression, Depth of Mercy, Depth of Soul, Emotions, Feelings, God’s Mercy, Hope, Life pathways, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Soul, Trails, Unknowing

The Trails I Take

I have taken many trails throughout my life and I imagine that you have as well. It’s one of the things all of us have in common. The trails we take can sometimes lead us to places unknown. Not just places on a map, but places in the soul. Our more difficult trails can push us to our limits, mostly the limits of the soul at its depth. Sometimes, today maybe, my soul is in the depths of unknowing.

What does that sentence even mean? My soul is in the depths of unknowing? If I don’t know what that means, how can I possibly talk about it with you? I can try!

I’ll try.
I’ll search for words
that explain
how I feel, how my soul feels
and what it means —
the depth of unknowing.

These days I sense an unease in my soul, in its depths. I have named it depression. I have tried in vain to make an appointment with my therapist. Isn’t that what people do when they are depressed? Anyway, I did that, but cannot see her until the end of July. So I determined that I had to become my own therapist. In doing that, I decided to search myself more deeply. I determined that perhaps what I feel isn’t depression after all. Instead, what I feel may be the depth of unknowing.

For me that means chasing away the unknowing, getting rid of it because I want to know when I will feel stronger physically, or when I will see my grandchildren, or how I will handle my emotional fragility, or where I will live for the rest of my life. Just to name a few things I need to know.

And yet, the depth of the soul’s unknowing may well be exactly where my soul begins to fully know. The trails I take while inside my soul’s depths contain lessons and treasures and wisdom. The trails bend and wind leading to an unknown path that opens its way for me. I follow it willingly, blindly, yet for some reason, expectantly. The trails are most surely my depression, their unknown, perilous way distressing me as I walk. Jagged rocks on the trails, vines creeping their way onto my path, thorns, bristles and barbs — boulders sometimes — all to remind me of the hard path I walk and the heavy load I carry.

The trails I walk may be no more ominous than yours. We all walk them and we all carry burdens on the way. You and I walk no easy trails. There is “no easy walk to freedom,” the song reminds us. Truth! The trails I walk, and your trails, are many and winding, hard and confusing. The obstacles overwhelm. I suppose this describes my depression as well as any words could, and it is precisely that unease in my soul’s depths that has come to me in these days.

The difficult thing about soul-deep depression is its dogged persistence. That kind of depression has staying power and it sits in the soul, creating that terrible sense of the soul’s unknowing. It has the power to convince me that I will never know the things I want to know. Mostly, I want to know destination. Where am I headed? What jagged rocks and prickly thorns will injure me along the way? And will I survive my injuries?

There lies the depth of depression. It lies in the desire, the need, to know. We need to know the unknown — where will the trails take us and what formidable obstacles will stop us. Now understand this, if I had answers, I would have given them to you several hundred words ago. I have no answers of my own, but I do have a nugget of wisdom written by author Angie Weiland-Crosby.

Some trails defy definition,
longing only for the soul.

Angie Weiland-Crosby

There may be something in her words. If the trails defy our attempts to define them or to know them, perhaps we can find comfort knowing that the trails long only for our soul. The trails only want us to bare our souls along the way and to open them up to the new. The trails are meant for our good, for our spiritual maturing. And as for another comfort, the God we know has seen and known the trails before us. However you see and know God, you can rest in the knowledge that God has some hand in the work of the soul. God knows about the trails we take.

Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid. Don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.”

Joshua 1:9 (The Message Bible)

When all is said and done, I believe the trails I take are necessary ones. In a way, perhaps the trails I take are sacred ones, meant for opening up my soul to its depths where transformation can occur. No, God does not lay out my every trail or remove its thorns and rocks. The trails I take are strewn with rocks meant for me, thorns that pierce just enough to get my soul’s attention. I believe that. And I believe that there is for me a way to trust God wholly. My personal translation of Proverbs 3:5-6 gives me a tiny inkling of hope even when depression ravages my soul.

Trust in whoever you believe God to be in your life.
Trust God with all your heart,

and don’t rely only on what you understand.
In all the twists and turns in your life,

perceive this God as one who offers a depth of mercy,
A God who sees and knows the trails you walk.
And be assured, know deeply in your soul

that God will direct your paths.

I want to share with you a video of a beautiful, meditative song entitled, “Depth of Mercy,” performed by students of Fountainview Academy, a Christian high school based in southern British Columbia, Canada. I also share this because of where it is filmed — a beautiful wooded area with various trails. Whatever trail the students took to arrive at their destination seemed a treacherous pathway to me, and even more treacherous, the place where they stood to play and sing.

They were on top of a magnificent ridge, but way too close to the edge for my comfort. At the end, as they sang, “Depth of mercy, can there be mercy still reserved for me?” The image pans across them to the jagged edge and then reveals a very deep and ominous gorge. Panning even farther across, you will see a most beautiful portrayal of nature, one that stirs the senses and reminds us of the depth of mercy our God reserves for us. I hope the video is meaningful to you.

anxiety, Friends, Friendship, Worry

Not to Worry!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6 NIV

Don’t be anxious about anything? Not so easy.

Everyone struggles with anxiety at times — religious people and not-so-religious people, the wealthy people who have everything and the poor people who will always be with us. After all, Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). We don’t understand exactly what Jesus meant, but the disciples did. They would have been very familiar with the verse from Deuteronomy, and therefore would have had in mind the rest of the verse that Jesus was quoting.

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

Deuteronomy 15:11

To be sure, people who are poor become anxious at times. So do those people who have everything. Any of us can be anxious. There is plenty of “stuff” inside of us to cause us to be anxious and, all around us, there is just as much to be anxious about. I don’t know about you, but I am pretty obedient to the words in Philippians. When I am anxious, I most definitely present my requests “by prayer and petition” to God.

Trouble is, sometimes I think that God doesn’t hear me. I feel worried beyond my normal worry level. My anxiety rages on uncontrollably, and there is no sign of relief, no glimpse of hope, no word from God. In those times, I ask myself, “What exactly do I expect God to do?” One of my dearest spiritual teachers, Bishop Steven Charleston, would answer my question by saying, “Open your mind and heart to the living presence of love that surrounds you.”

I had to sit with that answer for quite a while, breathing into it, searching for the silence I needed to take it in. It was definitely not a clear answer for me at first. But the more I let my heart receive it, the more I began to know how to open my mind and heart to the living presence of love the Bishop described. And then I read all that he had written. These are his words about being anxious.

“Whatever comes into your life, do not be anxious. There will be someone standing beside you. You will not be alone or forgotten. A great and compassionate love will hold you up, even through the longest night. A wisdom, as ancient as the stones of the earth, will whisper in your ear to help you in your choices, to comfort you in your losses, to show you the path forward. You will not be left unknowing and uncertain, but filled with a deep sense of hope. Whatever comes into your life, whether sunlight or shadow, open your mind and heart to the living presence of love that surrounds you. Listen to the urgings of your own common sense and the call of what you know to be sacred. Your life will be secure, come what may, for faith will be your home and kinship, your blessed band of believers.”

As Bishop Charleston suggested, when I listen to my common sense and the voice of what I know to be sacred, the love of God and the love of my friends gently lift me from the depths Every time! I cannot give you any wiser words about being anxious than Bishop Charleston just did from the very depth of his spiritual wisdom. I will simply pray that you will know the grace of the “great and compassionate love” he speaks of — to hold you up, to give you hope, to fill you with peace.

By the way, “not to worry, there is a Love that will not let you go. Thanks be to God. Amen.