Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Feeling Worthless...

One of the cruelest aspects of the disease of depression, I think, is that it has such an insidious way of convincing its victims that they have no value, no worth. People often tell me that they are "bad" or they are "worthless", not just to themselves, but to the people they love, to the world and even to God. When depressed, we feel often feel unable to be around others to draw support. We often feel unable to pray or even feel loved by God. God seems absent or uncaring. We feel like a burden to others. And perhaps the cruelest part of this is that depression convinces us that it is our fault that we are this way: "It's not a disease really", it whispers, "you feel this way because you are weak - or because it's true". Hence, at the times in life when we are most in need of healing, we may feel the most unworthy of or disconnected from the Healer and all of his manifestations.

I recently found a reprint of a verse I had stumbled across when a teenager. It had affected me profoundly at the time. I was babysitting for a single mother who, in retrospect, I believe was depressed. The verse was propped up on her mantle. Like many adolescents, I often experienced inner turbulence, highs and lows, as I tried to figure out who I was and what life meant. When I saw this verse, I knew I had to copy it down, even though I knew nothing about the man who wrote it. Just in the last week or so, with the aid of the Internet, I learned a bit more about James Dillet Freeman. He was born in 1912 and was of Native American, English and Irish descent, identifying primarily with his Native roots. He became a writer for Unity, a transcendentalist movement, of which I still have limited knowledge. What is fascinating though is his account of how his most famous verse came to be. His wife, Catherine, had told him she was ill and he took her to the doctor. He went to a prayer room, feeling "fear and agony", to pray for her. Suddenly he heard a voice that was audible, unlike the inner voice he usually sought when preparing to write. The voice said, "Do you need me? I am there." He related how the voice continued to speak and he wrote down the words, words that eventually came to comfort many people throughout the world. (There is even a copy of his verse, "I Am There" on the moon, brought by one of our astronauts.)

I am still struck by many lines from this verse (which I will copy below) but perhaps the one that has stayed with me the most is, "I am there when you pray and when you do not pray". I think most, if not all of us, long for Someone who will always be there for us, not just in our times of being good or even in our times of greatest suffering, but in the times when we feel we least deserve it. Many of us were raised with religious teachings that were designed to help form our consciences, so that we would know right from wrong - and to fear the consequences of doing wrong enough so as to not go down that path. While certainly we humans do need to learn right from wrong, unfortunately we may have internalized along the way the notion that we can access God by being good, but we lose him when we are not so good, when we don't feel able to pray or when we are not so sure there even is a God. That notion may strike particularly hard when the disease of depression lines up any mistakes we have made as "proof" that we are the failure at life that it has told us we are. It may seem then that even God wouldn't or shouldn't want us, a state that makes us feel hopeless to ever find escape from the suffering that we may think we deserve.

Then again, perhaps depression is a disease that distorts our thoughts and feelings. Perhaps there is a Healer waiting for us, trying to find us and be with us no matter how broken we may be ...

So, let us listen to the words that James Dillet Freeman heard when praying for Catherine, who, it turned out, had Alzheimer's Disease:

"Do you need Me ?
I am there.
You cannot see Me, yet I am the light you see by.
You cannot hear Me, yet I speak through your voice.
You cannot feel Me, yet I am the power at work in your hands.
I am at work, though you do not understand My ways.
I am at work, though you do not understand My works.
I am not strange visions. I am not mysteries.
Only in absolute stillness, beyond self, can you know Me as I am, and then but as a feeling and a faith.
Yet I am here. Yet I hear. Yet I answer.
When you need Me, I am there.
Even if you deny Me, I am there.
Even when you feel most alone, I am there.
Even in your fears, I am there.
Even in your pain, I am there.
I am there when you pray and when you do not pray.
I am in you, and you are in Me.
Only in your mind can you feel separate from Me, for only in your mind are the mists of "yours" and "mine".
Yet only with your mind can you know Me and experience Me.
Empty your heart of empty fears.
When you get yourself out of the way, I am there.
You can of yourself do nothing, but I can do all.
And I am in all.
Though you may not see the good, good is there, for I am there.
I am there because I have to be, because I AM.
Only in Me does the world have meaning; only out of Me does the world take form;
only because of Me does the world go forward.
I am the law on which the movement of the stars and the growth of living cells are founded.
I am the love that is the law's fulfilling. I am assurance.
I am peace. I am oneness. I am the law that you can live by.
I am the love that you can cling to. I am your assurance.
I am your peace. I am one with you. I am.
Though you fail to find Me, I do not fail you.
Though your faith in Me is unsure, My faith in you never wavers, because I know you, because I love you.
Beloved, I am there."

by James Dillet Freeman