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Friday, October 16, 2015

Depression as Spiritual Birth




I do not know Sarah Silverman. She is apparently a comedian. She has recently gone public with her struggle with depression. She has a very interesting description of the experience: “It feels like I'm desperately homesick, but I'm home.”

But that's it. We are not home. This world is not our home. Some people realize this, and depression is the natural first response. A lousy immediate environment, a trauma, is probably commonly needed to trigger this awareness, but there is a larger existential truth behind it. We would not experience depression were we not half conscious of a profound discord between is and ought. We would just accept what is for what is, as a frog accepts his slime. The clearer our perception of ought, the greater our depression. You cannot know you are in a valley without sight of a mountain.

Mount Carmel.

This is the hopeful side of depression. We have sighted the mountain. The challenge then is to begin to climb.

Mount Sinai

Silverman also speaks of the experience of panic attacks. “Every breath is laboured. You are dying. You are going to die.”

You are, one might say, a fish out of water. Interesting that the New Testament and the early church chose the fish as an image for the soul. A fish, or a bird, both alien to terra firma, where we live in a physical sense. Conversely, the church was early imagined as a ship—hence the term “nave” for the place where the congregation congregates. It was Noah's ark: everything outside the church is a watery chaos in which souls drown.

Early Christian symbol of a fish and anchor.

There is, as the New Testament says, a physical death, and a spiritual death. It is the spiritual death, no doubt, that is feared in a panic attack; to suppose it is a fear of physical death makes it nonsensical. That fear of spiritual death is real, and reasonable.

Image of a bird with an olive branch from the Roman catacombs.

Symbolically, breath is spirit. Hence we “respire.” If you feel you cannot breathe, the proper refuge is a church.

The nave of Bristol Cathedral. You are looking at a ships hull turned upside down.

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