William Nicholson wrote Shadowlands, the play (which became the film) inspired by C.S.Lewis’s extraordinary testimony A Grief Observed. In it, he gave Lewis this lovely line, one he never actually uttered, but may as well have done.
We read to know we’re not alone
As I wrap this little sequence of ruthless self-exposure up, various omissions and oddities have occurred to me, so the easiest thing is probably to string them together in a miscellany that’s almost Pauline in its randomness (though naturally without his claims to authority). Read more
I’m glad. In fact, if you didn’t, I’d be quite concerned for you! But be warned. This isn’t for the faint-hearted. It will try your patience and frustrate your sympathies. You’ll definitely have days when you’ve had enough. Perhaps months. So you’ll shrug that you did everything you could but to no avail. [There are only so many hours in a day, and you’ve got your own issues.] So you’ll assume it needs someone else to take up the baton. If that’s the case, then may I make a gentle plea with you? Don’t get involved in the first place… Read more
So here’s the 3rd Q Combination. I don’t know how well known these two geniuses are beyond British shores – but they are true 20th Century greats. In their different ways, both articulate a deeply earthy, incarnated spirituality. Read more
It’s been very moving to have messages in the last few days about my black dog posts. Thank you! At least it shows that it’s been worth it. As I mentioned in the first post, I’m genuinely not motivated by the kind of confessional culture that is all around us; still less am I trying to elicit sympathy. And I’m definitely not seeking advice or support (kind though some offers have been!). It is only to help those who don’t quite have the words for this yet. But I do realise that it’s raised lots of questions for some… Read more
So where does it all lead? Well, that’s precisely the problem. It can often feel like the road down has only one conclusion. Or perhaps terminus is the better description. Which is a terrifying thought. Not to mention taboo… Read more
I touched on the surprisingly physical reality of the black dog yesterday. It’s surprising, because, of course, depression is as much about emotional pain and scars as anything else. But here’s the really weird thing: the emotional anguish actually feels physical at times. I think I really get now why people talk about feeling heart-sick. It is a piercing constant, perhaps a little like having emotional toothache. Read more
The thing about volcanoes is that they’re as immovable as mountains. Rock solid in fact. But of course that’s the deception of appearances. And in geological terms, they’re savage beasts, easily provoked to ire by invisible tectonic interference.
It probably seems a totally incongruous metaphor for the Black Dog – but probably only to those whom he’s never pursued. Because there is something so irrational, so mysterious, so dark even about so-called depression that it is as destabilising as a major geological event. Read more
Poets and artists have had it. Leaders and teachers have had it. Normal and extraordinary people have had it. For all I know, even educated fleas have had it.
All kinds of stats get flung around about the black dog (1 in 4 so they say??) but who knows? What matters is not the exact numbers but how commonplace it is – and yet how extraordinarily varied. Read more
Well, you work on one book for 5 years, and another one for 5 months, and whaddaya know – they appear on the same day! Well in the UK at least. Tim, the noble overlord of the Good Book Co had asked me to contribute to their little series, Questions Christians Ask a while back. But because a big annual conference in London had the issue of human nature as its main theme, the plan was to work on getting this out in time. Read more
But still it didn’t sink in. Not immediately. And it wouldn’t, would it. After all, dead men simply don’t rise. They just DON’T. OK? Read more
If you’re from a certain corner of the global harvest field that is the church, then Charles Haddon Spurgeon will be a familiar, if not revered, name. The ‘prince of preachers’ (as he was known) was perhaps the world’s first megapastor – but the wonderful thing about him was that it never went to his head, he wasn’t corrupt, he was a character of whom it could certainly be said that ‘what you see is what you get.’ A far cry, in other words, from the smooth-talking, chiseled and attractive megapastors of today. Read more
I was asked by the fab 40Acts team over at Stewardship to contribute a short piece for their Do Lent Generously campaign – which is a creatively positive twist on the standard give-up-something-for-Lent routine.
We could call them the ‘pastor’s power pitfalls.’ There are many. Too many. It’s actually scary how much power a pastor wields – for good… and ill. It’s one of the key issues that has preoccupied me a lot about in the last few years while writing my culture of suspicion book (out VERY soon at all GOOD bookshops!). And I’ve witnessed (and struggled) under power-trip pastors. The worst thing, though, is how blissfully unaware they are of it. As one friend said of a church boss he struggled under for several years, “he’s like a drunk driver who never looks in the rear-view mirror.” Read more
Depression isolates and introverts. It’s a brutally vicious circle. And so when one occasionally gets swept up by outbreaks of energy, they are often focused on desperately trying to make connections beyond oneself. It might be music; it might be a conversation with someone who gets it with minimal explanation; it might be words on a page. I love that line from Shadowlands, William Nicholson’s TV play (turned into a stage play and then feature film) about C. S. Lewis’s grief for his late wife Joy (though bear in mind that the film really misses a lot of the theological nuance of the play, inevitably): Read more
It wasn’t a plan particularly, but then that’s part of the joy of books – I never have a plan for what I’m going to sink my teeth into next. It is usually just a matter of wanting something different from the one before.
But a couple of books recently have done that self-referential thing: they’re books about books (a bit like U2’s recent self-referential album, I suppose). And it got me thinking about the other books I’ve loved that have done this. Read more
Here’s one of those infernal lists. It hopefully speaks for itself. Read more
So I’ve been pondering a lot on the fact that Bono has called Songs of Innocence a personal album. Here he is in Rolling Stone last week:
“We wanted to make a very personal album,” Bono told Rolling Stone‘s Gus Wenner the day before the press conference in an exclusive interview. “Let’s try to figure out why we wanted to be in a band, the relationships around the band, our friendships, our lovers, our family. The whole album is first journeys — first journeys geographically, spiritually, sexually. And that’s hard. But we went there.”
Rachel Kelly is spot on: “But in the end, depression doesn’t follow rules: it is a devil that comes in many guises.” (Black Rainbow, p231) So there is a sense in which her experiences of depression (two highly debilitating and bewildering attacks and the subsequent need to manage it) will inevitably be unique. But her new Black Rainbow is remarkable: for it is no misery memoir but an act of generosity. In making herself vulnerable through talking so openly about facing and working through deeply personal pains, she has offered nothing less than a gift of grace. For in the midst of the bleak, black, barrenness of depression, she has found a path through. For those of us perhaps further back along the road, this is a germ of hope.