"I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me. When I lie down I think, 'How long before I get up?' The night drags on, and I toss till dawn." Job 7:3-4
Some twenty years ago in Buffalo NY, I enrolled in a program called “Jesus the Liberator Seminary”. The program, designed to train Christian lay ministers, was based on Henri Nouwen’s “wounded healer” model: individuals who had lived with particular social and personal pathologies, such as addiction, abuse, and (in my case) mental illness, learned to use scriptural principles to minister to others suffering the same afflictions. I lasted just over a year in the program before a combination of my emotional symptoms, my spiritual doubts, and what the program director called my “intellectual arrogance” led me to drop out.
Working with NAMI Missoula (National Alliance on Mental Illness), I often think of my experience at Jesus the Liberator: if nothing else, the experience helped focus me on the spiritual dimensions of mental illness and on the role of spirituality in recovery. I have advocated with some success for NAMI’s increased outreach to faith communities here in Missoula, and I have been pleased to be able to speak to a number of congregations of various denominations.
I have also made it a point to include in our NAMI Missoula resource library a number of books on the intersection of spirituality and mental illness, beginning with Dr. Sister Nancy Kehoe’s WRESTLING WITH OUR INNER ANGELS. We have just acquired four more books on the topic, books which I hope will be of use in our continued outreach:
JESUS WEPT: When Faith and Depression Meet is by Barbara Crafton and comes recommended by the likes of Gail Sheehy and Parker Palmer. Rev. Crafton is an Episcopal priest and spiritual director, and she writes that “Depression is the sapping of spiritual strength and joy, the graying of everything.” She further observes that “Depression’s mark on each soul can perplex and even annoy loved ones, friends, and family, while at the same time they want very much to help.” Individuals living with depression are very much included in what Jesus called “the poor in spirit,” and Rev. Crafton’s book is aimed at promoting emotional “resurrection and healing”.
TROUBLED MINDS: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, by Amy Simpson, seeks to educate members of faith communities about mental illness and to provide some guidance about “what churches can do” to minister to those afflicted: “where true healing from illness is elusive or impossible, [we] can demonstrate the kind of love God has for all of us—the kind that doesn’t waver, no matter how hard we are to live with.”
DARKNESS IS MY ONLY COMPANION, by Kathryn Greene-McCreight, is A Christian Response to Mental Illness. Highly touted by Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew Stanford, and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, DARKNESS is a memoir chronicling the author’s struggle with bipolar disorder; it is also a book that has been described as “an extended prayer” as Rev. Greene-McCreight reflects on the role of faith in that struggle.
Finally, Dr. Matthew Stanford’s GRACE FOR THE AFFLICTED is the current gold standard for providing A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness. Dr. Stanford goes into detail regarding a number of specific diagnostic categories, and he offers sound and simple advice for faith communities wanting to minister to the mentally and emotionally wounded in their midst.
It remains my hope that NAMI Missoula will find a local faith congregation willing to attempt a designated ministry to the mentally ill. Until then, I believe that anyone interested in the spiritual implications of mental illness—including me, atheist that I am—will find these books of value in their search for healing, wholeness, and comfort.