Prisons of Sadness and a Love Much Greater Than Evolution Requires

I was going to save this for tomorrow’s Another Week Ends column, but it’s just […]

David Zahl / 2.21.19

I was going to save this for tomorrow’s Another Week Ends column, but it’s just too good not to highlight all on its own. I’m referring to the sermon that author and journalist Michael Gerson gave at The National Cathedral this past Sunday. He opens with the admission that he’d missed the initial preaching date (a few weeks ago) because he’d been hospitalized for depression. It’s a bold opening, as is the searing testimony which follows, but one which clears the way for a remarkable meditation on how depression works as a metaphor for the human condition. The whole thing requires a mere twelve minutes of attention:

You can read the transcript here. I’ve reproduced a few of the more poetic passages below:

All of us – whatever our natural serotonin level – look around us and see plenty of reason for doubt, anger and sadness. A child dies, a woman is abused, a schoolyard becomes a killing field, a Typhoon sweeps away the innocent. If we knew or felt the whole of human suffering, we would drown in despair. By all objective evidence, we are arrogant animals, headed for the extinction that is the way of all things… Faith, thankfully, does not preclude doubt. It consists of staking your life on the rumor of grace…

This experience of pulling back the curtain of materiality, and briefly seeing the landscape of a broader world, comes in many forms. It can be religious and non-religious, Christian and non-Christian. We sometimes search for a hidden door when the city has a hundred open gates. But there is this difference for a Christian believer: At the end of all our striving and longing we find, not a force, but a face. All language about God is metaphorical. But the metaphor became flesh and dwelt among us…

I suspect that there are people here today – and I include myself – who are stalked by sadness, or stalked by cancer, or stalked by anger. We are afraid of the mortality that is knit into our bones. We experience unearned suffering, or give unreturned love, or cry useless tears. And many of us eventually grow weary of ourselves – tired of our own sour company.

At some point, willed cheerfulness fails. Or we skim along the surface of our lives, afraid of what lies in the depths below. It is a way to cope, but no way to live.

I’d urge anyone with undiagnosed depression to seek out professional help. There is no way to will yourself out of this disease, any more than to will yourself out of tuberculosis.

There are, however, other forms of comfort. Those who hold to the wild hope of a living God can say certain things:

In our right minds – as our most sane and solid selves – we know that the appearance of a universe ruled by cruel chaos is a lie and that the cold void is actually a sheltering sky.

In our right minds, we know that life is not a farce but a pilgrimage – or maybe a farce and a pilgrimage, depending on the day.

In our right minds, we know that hope can grow within us – like a seed, like a child.

In our right minds, we know that transcendence sparks and crackles around us…

Many, understandably, pray for a strength they do not possess. But God’s promise is somewhat different: That even when strength fails, there is perseverance. And even when perseverance fails, there is hope. And even when hope fails, there is love. And love never fails.

So how do we know this? How can anyone be so confident?

Because we are Lazarus, and we live.

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7 responses to “Prisons of Sadness and a Love Much Greater Than Evolution Requires”

  1. Duo Dickinson says:

    So Good. I want to hug him. Hard. But God is doing that.

  2. Really Really Good…..It’s a must “multiple listens”

  3. DLE says:

    What happens when the reality of Christ’s grace is reduced to a “rumor”? How did this happen? We have to offer people something more than a rumor if we are to embody the Kingdom of God at work in the world.

    • Amy Natzke says:

      When you are going into or going out of depression, a rumor is enough. When coming out of that kind of darkness, even just still remembering the powerless and weakness and doubt, there is power in what he says, his precise language….

      It is a rumor that is based on truth. But at that point we do not trust well just yet—so we will take the rumor, and then God brings us from the rumor to the living, powerful truth. Something like this.

      • hespenshied says:

        I agree Amy….. and “based on truth” doesn’t exactly mean “scientific evidence”. The truth you speak of is a truth that is woven into our hearts by the Gospel itself, and when someone is mired in depression, that “wovenness” of grace can get a bit frayed and unraveled …… thus, the notion that “Faith consists of staking your life on the rumor of grace” isn’t only said beautifully, it is our very hope in a love that does not fail.

  4. […] again, there’s Mike Gerson, the beloved speech-writer and journalist who burst onto the Mocking Scene three years ago after a sermon he gave at the National Cathedral. Gerson attended Wheaton College […]

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