Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Faith & Mental Health (or Mental Illness) - parts 4, 5 and 6

Peter Scazzero, God & the Emotional Life

  Peter Scazzero gave a dynamite talk at our Church (watch here).  It was more than just a lecture; we had an experience, we engaged, we interacted.  I like this: too often we think of religion as info about the Bible or God being downloaded into our heads. But Jesus, it appears, was not much of a lecturer. He asked questions, he probed deeply, he got people moving and involved.

   Scazzero's value is in his insights into the linkage between God and our emotional life. Sure, many Americans think about God and feelings - as in Do I feel God? Do I feel anything in worship? But God is interested in your inner emotional life, in bringing healing, and redirection to your emotions. The Bible is an intensely emotional book: the stories of complex people, the profound prayers, and even the rich swirl of emotion in the very heart of God!

   If we think of depression, anxiety, and other maladies that afflict us, doctors and counselors are of much help. But a healthy spirituality is pivotal to our well-being, and to understanding the depth of God's own heart.

   In yesterday's sermon, I spoke of the sinister messages our world bombards us with, lies about who we are and why we are here: I am a burden, a producer, I need others' approval, I can't make mistakes, it's all up to me. No wonder we are anxious. Beseiged by smug, pious people, Jesus said "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Luke 5:31). Hint hint: none of us are well, or not yet. We need this physician.

   The way this physician heals us is intriguing: he diagnoses our brokenness, and we are glad - for we are healed, not by going faster, but by slowing to a stop, by faith, abandoning our obsession with success and failure. Jesus heals us with mercy, and we learn to be merciful with ourselves, and others, and life itself. Karen Armstrong wrote that "For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn't know we needed, and take us to places where we didn't want to go."

    {In addition to Scazzero's book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, we're also recommending a daily devotional, also by Scazzero, The Daily Office (or Kindle), which for me is the best devotional book I've used in a decade or more.}

     {Join an Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Small GroupThis is the best and most strongly recommended way to learn and grow in this process! We'll start the week of Feb. 3.}

Repetition as Saving Grace

   Part of Scazzero’s genius is the way he has found the intersection between the emotional situation of 21st century people and the classic disciplines and spiritual practices the Church has utilized for centuries.  Christianity has the goods – like being still and simply meditating (not just a Buddhist thing!).  John 20 tells us Jesus “breathed on them” – and maybe he was teaching them how to breathe, how to inhale and then exhale, deeply, and feel the grace of God filling body, mind and soul.  Jesus showed them how to be with other people, who also need grace, to open up, to be a church where deeply flawed people love and help each other toward healing.
   To be well, we think about all our habits, like diet, sleep and exercise; we rely on our physicians, and more of us should go in for counseling – which can be wonderfully useful for the spiritual life!  Kathleen Norris, who underwent plenty of therapy herself, found immense value there – and yet also realized how therapy “falls short of mystery, a profound simplicity that allows for paradox.  In therapy I search for explanations, causes, and information to help change behavior.  But wisdom is the goal of spiritual seeking.”

  Wisdom.  Mystery.  Grace.  This is God’s realm.  We might fix anxiety or depression medically, but still feel a hollowness, a restlessness.  St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”  Finding that rest in God is actually essential even for dealing with anxiety, depression, guilt, sorrow, and broken relationships.  There is a deep weariness in the soul no vacation or napping can alleviate.

   I’m riddled with uneasiness; do you have anything to take for this?  How about reading the Psalms, or a breathing app on your phone, healthy prayers, listening to a hymn, joining (maybe for the 1st time) a group to grow in God?  There is a spiritual malaise at the deepest marrow of your self.  Building spiritual habits into your daily routine:  this is the only way to complement diet, exercise, sensible habits, and whatever the doctor has prescribed.

   Kathleen Norris spoke of “Repetition as Saving Grace.”  No single prayer, lecture, sermon or email will do it.  We are embarking upon a discovery of a committed rhythm of connection to God and others – and the very repetition itself will be God’s grace for you.

God’s heart, your heart

  Think about your heart – not just that fleshy engine that pushes oxygenated blood throughout your body, but that inner core of your being that desires, loves, grieves, and hopes.  The Bible tells us about God’s heart – and the healthiest I can be spiritually is when I get my heart beating as closely as possible to the heart of God.

   I learn God’s heart by a long project of immersing myself in Bible, worship, prayer, and conversation with others.  I come to want what World Vision founder Bob Pierce spoke of – for my heart to be broken by the things that break the heart of God.  An emotionally healthy spirituality involves caring about God’s world, growing up and away from self-absorption, frustrating by injustice out there, discovering what God is calling me to do, becoming a person who embodies God’s own compassion.
   You may say, But I am too broken myself to do any good.  Yet, your brokenness may prove to be a surprising, lovely gift.  Nassir Ghaemi’s intriguing book, A First-Rate Madness, explores how great leaders like Lincoln and Churchill led brilliantly, not in spite of their bouts with deep depression, but precisely because of them.  Studies show that depressed people are more realistic, and are naturally more empathetic to suffering.

   Of course, we all battle something or another in our souls – and the battle is the way to compassion, and ministry to others.  Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a striking letter to his young poet friend in which he urged, “Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled.  His life has much difficulty and sadness.  Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find these words.”

   So, believing in the saving grace of repetition, we pray once more, You called people from their daily work, saying to them ‘Come after me.’  Today, may we hear your voice, and gladly answer your call - to give our lives to you, to serve your Church, to offer our gifts, and give away our hearts to you only. Bless our hopes: the first tiny stirrings of desire, the little resolve to go forward, the small vision of what might be. Deal gently with our fears, the hesitation of uncertainty, the darkness of the unknown, the lack of confidence in our own capacity, and turn it all to trust in you.