CAC teacher and psychotherapist James Finley provides a helpful image for us to think about how our lives and struggles intersect with the ever-present love of God:
Here is an image that helps me think about spirituality as a resource in the healing of depression. Imagine drawing a horizontal line. This line represents our experiences of ourselves and our passage through time, from birth to death. This is our human experience going through our lives. As we go through life, we seek to experience happiness, fulfillment, security for ourselves and others, which creates feelings of well-being and gratitude. But likewise, life is such that we’re not always able to live in conditions conducive to happiness. There can be traumatizations, there can be betrayals, there can be losses, there can be injustices that take their toll. We can withstand anything as long as the center holds. But it gets really scary when these invasive, hurtful, and threatening energies that are going on in our lives start getting near the center. We start to lose our balance. We start to lose ourselves in a state of crisis.
The spiritual dimension is this: We now imagine drawing a vertical line intersecting right in the middle of the horizontal line. The vertical line is the divine dimension, divinity, God, the Holy, the sacred. And the infinite love of God, the Holy, is welling up, presence-ing itself and pouring itself out as our lives on the horizontal line. This is the God-given, godly nature of every breath and heartbeat. It is the sun moving across the sky, our breathing in and breathing out, the miracle of being alive and real in the world. Religious experience is the experience of tasting it and realizing this miracle. By following a path of faith and reassurance, God illumines us on the horizontal line. The difficulty is that as depression increases, it closes off experiential access to that vertical line, the upwelling of God’s presence in our life.
If we have religious faith and we experience depression, often our faith doesn’t mean anything to us anymore. It ceases to be relevant. Not only do we feel we have lost our own way in life, but we’ve also lost the felt sense of God being present in our lives. The absence of feeling God’s presence radicalizes the sense of our loss. A lot of therapy, then, isn’t only about moving along the horizontal line to reduce the symptoms of depression—although it is that—but doing it in such a way that it starts to open up the depth dimension. The infinite love of God can come welling up, and something of the depth dimension can begin to shine through in our dilemmas. It isn’t just that we’re caught in the middle of a dilemma, but we have a felt sense of knowing that we’re not alone.
Adapted from James Finley, “An Introduction to Depression and Spiritual Healing,” 2023 Daily Meditations: The Prophetic Path, Center for Action and Contemplation, April 4, 2023, video, 24:44.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—CAC Staff Exercise in Grief and Lamentation credits from left to right: Jennifer Tompos, Jenna Keiper, Jenna Keiper. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
On retreat, the CAC staff used watercolors to connect to our collective grief. This is one of the watercolor paintings that came from that exercise.
Story from Our Community:
I am a hospice chaplain in ____. As a spiritual guide to the dying and a companion to their family members, there have been times in which my own spiritual longings get lost. That was especially true during the social distancing measures of the Covid-19 pandemic. In those most difficult moments, I was often alone in my home, on the phone with others. I could not hug them or offer them a healing human touch. It also meant that I did not receive the comfort of human presence. I longed for spiritual community that would fulfill my desire to connect. The Daily Meditations eased my work in those most desolate moments. They were a reminder that I was never truly alone in my home; that Divine Love surrounded me—her simple grace and compassion continues to bring awareness of the birdsong outside my window to this day. —Jon F.