eScapegoat 10

eScapegoat is a story for those whose life experiences require a tenacious, and sometimes solitary, faith. It’s a hard read but a hopeful one. Look for a new posting daily during Holy Week (apologies for my late start this week).

May eScapegoat nourish your soul this Lenten season. Return to beginning.

eScapegoat

Shadow Lands, cont.

…he is to lay his hands upon the scapegoat, symbolically laying the sins of the people upon it. He then sends the scapegoat away into the wilderness, symbolically carrying the sins of the people with it.[i]

***

I couldn’t live in a world where I could believe Sheila would betray me.

I would not believe she had.

I was going insane trying to disbelieve it.

I imagined her apologizing for what she had done or what she’d failed to do; I thought I could keep my sanity if only she would own her actions. If that happened, these tormenting thoughts could, at last, end. But day after day went by with no word from her. It was as if our friendship happened in a bubble and when that bubble burst, the friendship no longer existed, at least not for her.

I realized I didn’t want to live: even more, that I hadn’t wanted to live most of my life. I begged God to kill me. I wanted to kill myself, but I’d embarrassed my family enough. At night I prayed to die in my sleep; I awoke each morning discouraged to discover breath in my body. I stopped painting, stopped eating, stopped imagining Magic Land. Still I lived, still I endured every unendurable moment. My family no longer even feigned interest in my welfare, exerting no effort make me eat or sleep. And still I lived on.

 

When it became clear God would not let me die, I realized I hated Sheila. I hated myself, too, for being fool enough to believe she valued me. Fool enough to believe myself valuable. Sheila would never apologize; I knew that now. I didn’t matter enough to be stood by. Shadows can take only the form given them by substance. In my family’s world, in Sheila’s world, I had no substance of my own. Days went by and weeks as I existed in the sterility of my family.

Weeks turned into months; I ceased going to church. I imagined everyone sighing in relief at my absence. Especially my family; they had grown smaller, tighter. They’d closed ranks: reformed themselves with me outside the door. Wilda’s place of seniority was secured. My shadow hardly darkened our family’s consciousness anymore.

I made plans to simplify their lives. My plans grew solid at the mailbox; one evening at dinner, when a lull formed in the conversation, I spoke.

Everyone jumped; I rarely spoke these days and it seemed in poor taste to put myself forward. I kept it short: “I am going to East Texas College and majoring in art. I’ve been given a full scholarship. I start next month.”

***

The goat that was to be sent into the wilderness was designated by a black mark on the head, the other one on the neck.[ii]

***

Thanks to my job at the hobby shop, I’d bought myself a car: a used Pinto with more miles on it than my parents’ ancient station wagon, and a stain in the back seat I tried not to think about. I had it loaded: Mother had bought the necessities: towels, sheets, flashlight, crackers and Velveeta cheese for snacking. The three of them stood in an awkward semi-circle at my car’s door. Then Mother lurched forward and gave me a hug, the others followed suit, laying cold hands on my back, doing their familial duty.

I could feel their relief as I closed myself into my car and cranked the engine. Then, astonished, I felt myself relieved as well. I was alone in the truth of myself. In my family’s world, they spoke of their faith as the peace that passes understanding. For me, it’s been more the pain that does.

***

He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head.[iii]

[i] Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Gen. Ed. Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Baker Academic Grand Rapids, MI 2005, p. 449.

[ii] Orr, James, Gen. Ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI 1955,   p. 344.

[iii] Lev. 16:21a NRSV.

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Depression Danger

depressionI have depression. Severe at times. I share this because recently we’ve heard news stories in which persons with depression harmed others. A pilot crashed a passenger-filled plane into the Alps. A woman hanged herself in an elementary-school playground, potentially traumatizing students. A suicidal man crashed his car into another, killing himself and the other driver.

We might determine from such stories that all persons with depression pose a threat to others. We’d be wrong. It’s true: depression can skew thinking, but generally in self-torturing ways. Like those green gunky guys in the Mucinex commercials, Guilt, Shame, Dread, Worthlessness, and Despair arrive, toting luggage, intent on setting up a homestead in our souls.

Put another way, it’s like trying to keep our noses above frigid waters*. Makes it challenging to fry an egg, focus at a board meeting, and help with the kid’s homework while trying not to drown. I call depression an invisible disability, because the determination needed to keep on keeping on is not readily evident. But depression can be just as debilitating as any other bodily challenge.

And, far from seeking to harm others, it’s often the love of others that prods us out of bed in the morning when we want to pull the covers over our heads, assume a fetal position, and beg for the bliss of unconsciousness.

What do people with depression need?

  • First, not to be labeled by our depression: we are, each of us, individuals.
  • Second, not to be feared: we tend to accept blame that’s not ours anyway.
  • Third, to know we didn’t choose this. Depression can be caused by life experience, by temperament, by physiognomy, or by a combination of these. We choose to eat right, exercise, take medication as needed, get enough rest, and pray pray pray, but it’s no guarantee. We can still find ourselves near to drowning in depression’s chilled waters.
  • Fourth, have expectations of us. Creating, contributing, being depended on remind us that we’re valued and needed. And that keeps us keeping on.

The reprehensible choices of some persons who share a diagnosis does not define us all. Get to know us— each of us—as a unique person. Because for a person with depression, blame is toxic, but acceptance is balm.

* My book, When God Walks Away: A Dark Night Companion, provides further insight into depression, including its spiritual potential and how it differs from the dark night of the soul.

Dark Night Collage

Dark Night

Dark NIght: Mixed-Media Collage

The mixed-media collage’s overall design depicts the Dark Night’s cyclical nature: successive nights and dawns accompany our entire life’s journey. The waves illustrate our sense of drowning in God’s sovereignty. Menacing, cold figures emerge beneath these waves, enticing us to give in to despair: one such “un-god” is depression. But leaping, resurrected, from the waves are souls who have emerged from the Night golden and grateful—beacons to the sufferers below.

The background, though dark, is not hollow of color—hues interplay in every section, for the Night is many-shaded and filled with marvelous diversity. It is the darkness of mystery and wonder. Two roads lead upward from the bottom portion of the collage. The first, coming in from the lower left edge, is a moving sidewalk. The other, coming up from the bottom of the piece, is a vacant house. I explicate these images in When God Walks Away: A Dark Night Companion.

The egg-shaped white sepulcher, housing both Dark-Night tomb and Dark-Night flame, is the center of action. The repeat flame above the sepulcher depicts a purgative Dark Night that awaits the sufferer. The sufferer within feels herself alone, off-balance, and tormented. She fears she has become one with the menacing figures that torment her, but her darkness is just a shadow—could she but see the transformation occurring in her soul, she would realize a golden glow is beginning already to radiate through her. She is, even now, becoming one with the One who blessed her with the Night.