Friday, February 20, 2015

Depression and Solitary

I partially wrote a blog post earlier in the week that I never posted. In fact, I deleted it outright. That is fairly rare for me to table a thought entirely. I may save it for a while and rework it, but I always generally end up posting here on this blog what I am thinking or pondering at the moment: serious, humorous, or otherwise.

A few days ago, however, I was really in the dumps, not to put too fine a point on it. I tend to have a healthy dose of what my wife calls "Irish melancholy." I like dreary, rainy days with fog. I can't stand extremely happy or bubbly food or people. Don't get me wrong, it is not that I am a grumpy old man. I may be a curmudgeon at times, but that is different that being a mean old Scrooge. I do not run kids off my lawn with a stick while yelling, "Oy vey!" Well, at least usually.

I have been discerning a lot of things in my personal life for going on close to two years now. I left the priesthood of my former denomination because I simply could not take the theological madness that had descended en masse and relativism that had taken root there and grown like a cancer. That still makes me sad to think about, but I am convinced had I remained I would have keeled over with a heart attack by the age of 45.

Ever since my leaving, I have struggled with a sense of vocation. I still feel called to ordained ministry, but where I am now has increasingly made clear that there is no place for me on that path, at least for the foreseeable future. What has irritated me to no end is not that I entered into a formal discernment process and by mutual agreement we can to realize my call was mistaken. I simply cannot get any bishop to answer any of my phone calls, and if they do they are extremely polite or rude about it, but the end result is always the same: don't call us, we'll call you. And, of course, they never call back, like, ever. In a Church that supposedly has a priest shortage, one would think a former Anglican priest with six years of full time ministry under his belt would be pounced upon, but then the Church does not do things like normal people do things.

As such, I have come to I think what the old and somewhat discredited Kubler-Ross stages of grief called the acceptance phase. Though not trendy in counseling psycho-babble anymore, I always liked those stages of grief, as cutesy academic paradigms go. As is my case, I did go through all those stages, perhaps more than once, in my discernment journey. Somewhat like a soldier returning home with a serious wound of some kind, be it mental or physical, I went through various phases of denial and bargaining and all that.

Earlier in the week, I received a boatload of rejection letters and phone calls. Each more denigrating than the one before it. To make a long saga short: we don't want your kind here. I had received several rejections out of hand before, and usually my response was to sink into a mild type of depression that would last for a few days, I would emerge, only to start the process all over again. (I guess I am a glutton for punishment.) This week, my internal reaction was different though in a way I had never reacted before. Instead of becoming resentful or angry or despondent, I went into a funk, but it was more of a "You know, I'm just done. It's time to face facts: there's no future for me here on this path."

My strange reaction was, I believe, a type of cathartic acceptance: it is time for me to move on. If a God opens a door to that, fine, I will walk through it, but God has to open the door. My knuckles are bloody from knocking on door after door, and I just can't do this anymore. I have to come to the realization that there is no place for me here. I just have to put my calling into cold storage and maybe one day I can thaw it back out. Until that day, I'm just done with the whole ordained ministry thing. I just can't keep doing this.

Now, all this begs the question: what of my vocation now? This is the question I do not, as yet, have the foggiest notion of how to answer or even how to discern it. They let me give a lecture on theology every so often. I help out at mass from time to time. It is all pretty meaningless though in the grand scheme of Christian ministry. I feel like I am being asked to survive on the table scraps leftover from the banquet of Christian ministry. I have not the foggiest clue of where to go now or what to do in terms of vocation. The fact is, the church does not really have a whole lot of options for people like me with advanced theological degrees. We simply know too much to be a lay person, and yet apparently are not competent enough to be allowed to be clergy of any kind. So, there it is. Who knows? Certainly, I do not. If you have any ideas, let me know. I am open to suggestions.

Really what clarified the situation for me in my own mind is an article I read on real depression. Sometimes I think I get depressed, and I have to repent of that immediately upon reading something like this. This is one of the more interesting blogs I have ever read. It is by a Catholic priest who is serving decades in prison for a crime he claims he did not commit. The only things I know about his case is from what I read on his blog, so I have no idea whether those claims are accurate or not. If what he says is true, it is indeed a grave miscarriage of justice, though I feel there is more to his story than he lets on, but his guilt or innocence is not the issue. He writes about his life in prison. I think as of this blog post, he has spent about 19 years in prison. He has some very unique insights into prison life from the prospective of a prisoner but also a clergyman. He has written quite a few interesting things on depression in prison and issues of mental health for inmates.

The article I just linked is worth reading. I bring it up for a number of reasons. For me, personally, it is a reminder that while I feel like my vocation is a dead end at present, I still have my freedom. So, in short, I need to get on with my life and be thankful for what I have. In terms of social justice, there is a whole boatload of issues that he touches on that I could go into. People lambaste the death penalty, but I'd take death over spending a year in solitary confinement. There are all kinds of ethical issues to mine there.        

Mental health issues is something that I think we are just coming out of the proverbial dark ages in beginning to tackle as a society. I wouldn't have the foggiest idea how to help someone like that deal with life either in or out of prison, which is why I always shied away from any sort of prison ministry because I would not know what to say that could possibly be meaningful to people that I feel have every right to withdraw into a depression abyss. If I was forced to live in a broom closet, I know I'd be a basket case.

At this point, I am not certain how to end this, other than to say, watch that video. I will warn you, it's horrendous. That having been said, this is why I love Hans von Balthasar's book on the Harrowing of Hell entitled  Mysterium Paschale, the image of Jesus emptying himself so much as to descent into hell as one condemns so that he might preach the good news to those in prison having been in a place where he understands them.

If you need something to ponder for Lent, there you go.

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