Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!
The Beatitudes seem to fairly precisely describe the abused and the depressed as Christianity’s target audience.
So what does this mean in terms of the best “treatment” for depression? What are the implications for the “depressed”?
We have noted that Jesus’s advice to “turn the other check” is actually good practical advice for anyone who finds himself in an abusive situation. But that does not itself deal with the lasting effects of the abuse.
Surely there is more here; for Jesus himself promises it: “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Sounds good; especially since free-floating anxiety is the most common feature of what is called “depression.”
Obviously, the first thing and the main thing is to embrace Christianity; to, as AA has it, submit to a higher power. This is no small detail. Even those raised Christians, even those who are practicing Christians, may not have really done this in their hearts. There are conversion experiences, and conversion experiences upon conversion experiences. Mount Carmel is a long climb.
But Jesus also seems to suggest something more specific. In his next words, immediately following the Beatitudes, he advises:
13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
This is not just a matter of receiving the sacraments, is it? This is not just a matter of letting Jesus into your heart. These sound much like marching orders.
The most obvious thing is that they are supposed somehow to be noticed: like salt, or light; to be very apparent to the senses. And “good works”: that seems clear enough. We as Christians are supposed to do good deeds: clothe the naked, visit prisoners, feed the hungry, and so forth. The corporal acts of mercy. Check.
But wait. There is a problem here. For, later in the same Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns expressly against doing such good deeds so that others can see them:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
Accordingly, while we are certainly called upon to do good deeds, and to pray, and to receive the sacraments, this cannot actually be what Jesus is referring to here. Attending church, praying, and the corporal acts of mercy are all supposed to be done in secret. This is no city on a hill, no lamp shining, no salt spreading its taste to the meal. Just the reverse.
Is he referring instead to the “works of the spirit”? The gifts of the spirit are listed variously in different places, but include, according to I Corinthians: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, identifying spirits, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues. They were, most famously, given to the apostles at Pentecost. Jesus does, certainly, in this same passage, compare the depressed to the prophets: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” That's the most obvious gift of the spirit cited.
Yet it seems this is not meant either. In the same sermon, Jesus warns of false prophets:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”If prophets themselves are to be recognized by their fruits, then the visible fruits cannot be the prophecies. That they already manifest, by definition. It seems reasonable too to suppose the same of the other works of the spirit. Indeed, in the sermon itself, Jesus makes clear that non-believers can pull off many of these things as well:
“Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”
The visible fruits mentioned--presumably the same thing meant by “shining light,” salt, and “city on a hill”--must be something else.
I doubt many will imagine that the fruits and the works he calls for the dispossessed and poor to do are material riches; perhaps some Calvinists will. But Jesus dismisses this notion smartly enough as well, warning against both riches and, Protestant work ethic to the contrary, working hard and getting ahead.
19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
25 "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.Are the “good works” going forth and preaching the gospel, converting and baptizing the nations? One might well suppose so; for later, this is indeed what the apostles are called to do. But this too does not seem right. First, at this early stage in his ministry, Jesus tells his apostles not to do this, but to speak only to the lost of the children of Israel; and he strives to keep his own Messianic identity secret. Jesus also warns in the sermon that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” So no, it seems that preaching the gospel (i.e., saying "Lord, Lord") is not the fruit either. It is not in itself, although desirable and demanded, “doing the will.”
Jesus also says, in the same sermon, apart from any obvious context, “6 Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Isn't this actually a warning against preaching the gospel straight up, out in the market place? Note too the echo here of the image of salt being crushed underfoot. In other words, whatever salt is, it is not saying things straight out to anyone who will hear. That is the opposite of salt; that is salt that has lost its savour.
But look again at that passage. Isn't it our key? Isn't it a skillful signal that the entire Sermon on the Mount is a riddle, that the primary point is not being said straight out? It is meant to reveal itself only to those who will ponder it in their hearts.
So what is left, then? The depressed, the abused, are called on to do good works, to let their light shine, to bear good fruit, to do the will of their father. But this does not mean doing good deeds in the common sense. It does not mean prophesying, or performing miracles. It does not mean preaching the gospel. It certainly does not mean getting rich. What is left?
Perhaps it is just my limited imagination. But the only thing that seems to be left is the creation of beauty through artifice—what we might call “art.” The "work" of an artist.
Indeed, if we read the Sermon on the Mount as a riddle, it is itself a good example of the concept. Even if we do not, the saying about casting pearls before swine certainly is; and so is Jesus's characteristic teaching technique, of telling parables. He is an artful storyteller, and storytelling is an art.
So is the image of a “city on a hill,” to which he compares the depressed. A city is an artifice. So is the seasoning of a meal with salt. So is setting a lamp on a stand, and lighting it.
Beauty appears to us through our senses; hence the references to flavour (salt, fruit), light, and the eye. Indeed, what else but the expereince of beauty can Jesus be speaking of in the cryptic phrase:
22 "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
To be able to appreciate and respond to beauty is apparently of the essence. And, while a much larger group is called to be disciples, to be an apostle, one of the twice-called, implies the production of such beauty in some way.
This just makes sense. God, being Supreme Being, is by definition not just perfect goodness, and perfect truth, but also perfect beauty. Just as revering him demands a commitment to truth, and to the moral good, it must also demand a commitment to beauty.
It is in the beauty of the natural universe that we see God.
It is in the beauty of our artifice that we honour him.
In this sense we imitate Christ. In this sense we are in the image of God.