Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Out of the Depths

Out of the depths I have cried unto thee, O LORD.

So opens Psalm 130, in the King James Version. I don't often quote the KJV here, but when I turn to the Psalms, the poetry of that English translation of the Hebrew, commissioned in 1604 by King James I of England, and first published in 1611, is unparalleled.

The ethicist in me wants to get out of the way first - before I delve into what I meant to write when I sat down in front of this screen and keyboard - that the English LORD here ultimately points back not to a literally male deity, but to the holy mystery of the unpronounceable divine name. Thus the Inclusive Bible renders it a tetraconsonant, a literal translation of the Hebrew on the page. This, however, has its own problems, and so most other translations render it LORD, following the Hebrew Adonai, which is substituted for the holy, unpronounceable name of God. Thus LORD, rather than pointing directly to the nature of God, serves as a weak metaphor, not to be fixed on to. It is an attempt not to fix a gender to God, but rather to respect the holiness of the divine name. Thus some scholars instead substitute Holy One, preserving the holiness of the divine name while also avoid affixing a gender to God.

But, as I said, for all its faults (and its faults are probably no less than any other translation) the poetry of the Psalms in the KJV sings to me, soaring above all other poetry in the English language. It may not perfectly capture the Hebrew - nothing could - but it does perfectly capture the majesty of the English language.

Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.

This - verse 2 in Psalm 130 - is my most fervent prayer.

As I wrote here, I've been struggling with depression and anxiety. And, as you might have guessed from that post, I see my depression and my anxiety through a theological lens. That shouldn't be a surprise, since I see everything through a theological lens. And, it is not wholly inappropriate. Depression and anxiety have deep theological value. Not that they themselves are valuable - I can't abide by romanticizing depression, as though this disease were responsible for great works of art or philosophy, as though its madness were a muse! But rather that depression and anxiety, like any disease, like any source of suffering, must be taken seriously by anyone who wishes to speak theologically.

I experience my own depression as a loss of faith. For years that has deeply troubled me. I saw that loss of faith, mixed with melancholy and despair, as both a moral and a spiritual failing. I saw that loss of faith that was my own failing to properly attend to God, resulting in the loss of the experience of God, as producing my depression. I would become aware of the experience of the loss of my faith (I can't do better than that clumsy phrase at the moment - in it I mean to assert not that I in fact lost my faith, but rather that my experience was of one who did lose faith), and then I would notice both a deep depression and a crippling anxiety.

It has always been the anxiety that has bothered me the most. It strikes like lightning, apparently from nowhere. And in a moment all hope, all faith, all meaning have been replaced by shear dread. Fits of terror. I taste not my own death so much as my own non-existence. I am, as it were, X-ed out. Erased. I can neither move nor breathe, but am gripped by a fear with no rational content nor any obvious object.

In these moments, I am incapable of faith.

But I no longer believe that the loss of my faith brings these attacks on, nor do I believe that asserting my faith can cure me of them any more than it could cure me of cancer. Rather, I believe that my depression and anxiety rob me of my capacity for faith, just as they rob me of my capacity for hope, for joy, and for meaning.

I have begun traveling the long road to recovery from this disease, that has already eaten away far too much of my life. And I've found that on this road to recovery, I do have faith. A faith deeper and more abiding than I've ever noticed before. My faith neither answers nor wards off my depression and my anxiety. Rather it persists through this time. And, as I heal, I notice it more and more.

So from the depths of my depression, I cry out to my God. Not because faith alone is sufficient to answer the suffering brought on by my disease, but because in the midst of suffering I need to cry out, and all such crying out is ultimately a crying out to God.


Paul said...

Indeed The Psalms are beautiful. Ecclesiastes gives me solace as well.

Aspirant said...

I did not know about the centrality of the loss of faith piece; or didn't hear it because it mirrors my own experience still. And what you say about non-being...man, did I used to go there DEEP. that part has passed, but the struggle with faith has not (yet anyway).

That said, it was great to talk to you over the break; I do hope things are moving forward. Let's talk this week and catch up :)

thoughts and prayers with you.