"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

08 April 2005

Clinging to Hope

For J and others whom I specially love and pray for

{Please note that I am speaking here of day by day coping. Many people need medication to help with this, and it is always wise to seek counsel from those who can help an individual to understand particular needs. But even with such help, the sufferer of depression may still sometimes find himself in the darkness. My prayer is that what I say here may be an encouragement – not a prescription.}

“Spleen LXXXI”

When the low heavy sky weighs like a lid
Upon the spirit aching for the light
And all the wide horizon’s line is hid
By a black day sadder than any night;

When the changed earth is but a dungeon dank
Where batlike Hope goes blindly fluttering
And, striking wall and roof and mouldered plank,
Bruises his tender head and timid wing;

When like grim prison bars stretch down the thin,
Straight, rigid pillars of the endless rain,
And the dumb throngs of the infamous spiders spin
Their meshes in the caverns of the brain,

Suddenly, bells leap forth into the air,
Hurling a hideous uproar to the sky
As ‘twere a band of homeless spirits who fare
Through a strange heavens, wailing stubbornly.

And hearses, without drum or instrument,
File slowly through my soul; crushed, sorrowful,
Weeps Hope, and Grief, fierce and omnipotent,
Plants his black banner on my drooping skull.

– Charles Baudelaire

Anyone who has been struck with depression will recognize it here. Yet it cannot be understood without being experienced; and no one who has experienced it would wish it on others just for the sake of understanding. Those who read these words and wonder why anyone would write so darkly, wonder if it isn’t mere affectation, a pretentious show of fashionable angst – they are indeed blessed. As Hopkins says in “No worst, there is none,” the mind “has mountains; cliffs of fall / Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap / May who ne’er hung there.”

Yet this insidious fog must not be allowed to hold sway even as it enshrouds heart, mind, soul. It must be resisted, even if it seems impossible. “Do the next thing.” Then, “do the next thing.” The simple getting out of bed, putting on clean clothes and making oneself neat, making the bed, eating breakfast, speaking to a friend . . . These are the very things that seem impossible, yet hold within them hope. For by refusing to give in, to hide in sleep or slovenliness or isolation, we declare that hope, however dim or distant, is not dead.

Hopkins writes in “Carrion Comfort”:

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist – slack they may be – these last strands of man
In me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something; hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

Even as he questions God – why are You doing this to me, the middle stanza cries out in agony – he refuses to give in to despair. He sees that he can act, even if that acting is simply to hope that the light will come again, merely to hold onto life until his hope is justified. And when he emerges from the despair of many months, he is able to see a little of what his God, whom he questioned but never ceased to trust and love, had accomplished in his life:

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay, in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, cheer.
Cheer whom though? The hero whose heaven-handling flung me, foot trod
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

Even as God had, as it seemed, flung him to the ground and trod on him, even as he had fought Him throughout those darkest weeks and months, he was being threshed like wheat to rid him of the chaff, to better serve the God he loved despite the despair he felt, despite the sense that God was ignoring or even actively and deliberately hurting him. He emerges from the darkness rejoicing, and realizing with awe that he has indeed wrestled – like Jacob – with God Himself, and found a blessing.

In the darkness, do not be afraid to cling to Him. “I will not let You go until You bless me,” Jacob told his Adversary. And because he did not lose faith, did not give up, because he persisted like the woman before the unjust judge, he was indeed blessed – and, remember, marked as well. We do not emerge unscathed – only with a deeper trust of and joy in our Savior, who loves us enough to sift us like wheat until our grain lies “sheer and clear.”

And, too, with a deeper sense of compassion and desire to comfort others with the comfort with which He has comforted us. Even as Hopkins, from years long past, ministers to us through both his despair and his hope, we will be better able to help those whose lives He entrusts to us. Whether this depression is once and gone or a thorn in the flesh all our lives, if we cling to hope, we glorify Him and serve our neighbor.

So hold to hope. Do the next thing. Seek, demand His blessing as you cling to Him. And know that He is with you, however you may feel, and will make you able to show Him to others.


Cindy said...

I love Hopkins. :)

alaiyo said...

I so often find hope in Hopkins! He is, of course, regular reading towards the end of any semester . . . :)