In the Shadow of Spirit: Personal Glimpses of Spirit in Depression
(Dated: Spg. 2001)
As a woman, as a witch, this is alien ground for me. I am here studying at a Catholic college, a place where a faith unfamiliar to me is upheld as the moral guide and standard. When in need of solace, a student is advised to pray or to speak with their spiritual councilor, usually their minister or priest. The language used here speaks of the Christian God, the triune God that is embodied for that Catholic faith in God the Father; God the Son, or Jesus Christ, the Savior; and the Holy Spirit of GOd.
The rituals and practices of Catholicism are woven into the spirit of the college like a subtle gossamer thread that binds the disparate students to the faculty, and these lay people to the Convent and the clergy present here. They do their best to welcome all to their worship services, making them very public and open. All they ask of a visitor of another faith is respect and understanding. Most of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, if not all, I have found give the same respect and understanding to other faiths that have been encountered on campus.
The warmth and kindness that I have seen here has proven to be a reversal of my fears and expectations. Many in my faith are taught that witches and those who were like us were and still are persecuted with prejudice by all Christians, with special emphasis placed on Catholics. Yet, here, on this small, intimate campus, I find myself surrounded with the warm and loving embrace of common humanity and a special sense of sisterhood with the nuns here. They have encouraged my growth and study of my faith, in many respects they have offered guidance to me in my study.
In my hours of darkness, which sadly have been many, I have found myself reminded of the unfamiliar ground that I tread here. The gentle love for their fellow humanity and the motherly wisdom of the Sisters has been a support for me, but it can only sustain me for a limited point. I find myself facing questions, questions that not even their kind guidance and suggestions can help me answer. These are questions of spirit and of faith, which are sadly of a different spiritual language then that of Catholicism or Christianity.
I have often struggled in facing my womanhood; the focus of this struggle has often been on the after effects of being sexually assaulted and raped at one point in my past. The answers that have been suggested for the question of 'why' have ranged from "God working in mysterious ways" to "having the experiences to teach others how to be safe." In counseling and through my study of the psychology of survivors, the horrific randomness and senselessness of the violence perpetrated on me cuts through these potentially soothing answers. Thus, I am left with no spiritual support on which I can lean when I find my wounds bleed too heavily for me to lift my head, let alone walk through life with the strength to carry my own weight and that of my history.
The bleeding of these psychic wounds, wounds to my memory and spirit, manifests in my problems with depression. They are aggravated by the blows and challenges I encounter in my life and world, at times simply oozing proverbial blood and others bleeding heavily and full of the foul stench of putrefaction. I have often yearned simply to lay down, to let myself succumb to the desires to do away with myself or let my situations continue to abuse me, thereby obliterating any sense of self that would need protection or care.
This yearning is an expression of the deep exhaustion I feel, for the fight has been long and hard. When misery casts its hand over me, I find that I stumble into a shadowed place where spiritual strength is hidden from me. It is then that I wish for the sleep of death, and the rest that would come to my spirit in the other world that it journey to, be it the Heaven of my Catholic sisters or the Tir NanOG of my own path.
In these times of darkness and the desire for sleep, something pricks me and keeps me fighting. It ranges from anger to love to something unnameable. It is this nameless force that has given me to believe that perhaps a spiritual answer is in my own faith for what happens to us when we suffer, even if there may not be a higher cause of it. Each fleeting contact with this nameless force, I find myself aware of the large breadth of suffering in the world, if not the Universe. It was a meditation on the cross and the Passion of Jesus Christ that brought me awareness of what this nameless force could most likely be.
Often, it is taught that Jesus suffered on the cross for the sins of the world, to place his blood between the hard gaze of God and the world. In this ultimate sacrifice, the Son of God mediated for the well being of his breathren humanity. I see many expressing this Christian mystery in the words "Jesus suffered for you" on everything from jewelery to bumper stickers. This mystery begs a question, though. If a relationship with anyone is reciprocal, would your suffering, in any form, be for Jesus?
As I continued with this thought, it came to me in a sudden flash of inspiration that when we suffer, we do not suffer alone. Not only is their solidarity in our fellow humanity, who in many circumstances would suffer with us, but we can find that the unnameable higher power that is called God by the Christians, or Goddess by witches like myself, suffers with us. Some would argue that suffering must be exalted, for some noble cause or religious reason, for this to be true. I can not honesty say this, because in the use of the expression "Jesus suffered for you" it becomes possible to say that Jesus suffered with hunger, insult, or even mild discomfort for our sakes, because the statement does not specify the cause of his suffering.
In my own faith, we are taught that the Goddess is within us and that we are a part of her. This makes it a very real teaching for one to say that the Goddess suffers with us when we are harmed. When we suffer moments of weakness, so too does the Goddess. Arguing that the higher aspect or power of the Universe can only feel positive emotions or "righteous" emotions is foolish. Who are we to know the mind of God or Goddess or whatever name you call this higher power by?
We barely know our own mind and nothing about the mind of other humans. We have not yet begun to truly know anything about the workings of the world, let alone the mind of the world. And yet many would dare to say that the Divine mind is not touched by feelings of sorrow or other 'base' emotions. Our ignorance is a blessing and a curse. It shields us from truths that we are not ready to know and it constrains us to learn through trial and error about the Divine. In my times of depression and sorrow, I often find that I reflect on the fact that we cannot know everything about the higher aspect of the Universe.
This mystery frightens me, because it is the unknown. Perhaps some day, this fear will fade from my heart, because there is much about myself that is unknown and I do not fear myself. In the end, the advise of the Sisters lead me to this revelation. It was through their own religion that I came to a truism about mine. Our spiritual languages may be different, but perhaps our problems of spirit are the same. I can say that through each moment of darkness and spiritual weariness, I have learned something of my faith and myself.
When I emerge from them, I am transformed and I find that I am perhaps stronger, or my own strength has been proven to me. In this respect, suffering is a blessing to be welcomed into our lives. But suffering is not joy, and I suspect that joyful suffering can not exist. Suffering is pain, and while pain is perhaps the greatest teacher, it is not to be trifled with. For even when our spirits yearn to rest, we are still challenged by the shadows of spirit even as we are challenged by the light of its wisdom.
Addendum: This was written while I was still learning the deeper theology of my faith. My position upon the matter of suffering has evolved greatly. I feel, however, that it is important to present this to show how my understanding has evolved and developed.