Depression and Spiritual Growth
The idea of Grace in the sense of a free, unexpected, undeserved, gift from God to Man is a very old tradition in Christianity. But as just defined, it could be almost anything: a pretty flower, a mild sunny day. Yet clearly it means something much more deep than that. The problem with defining Grace is that definitions are fundamentally verbal and intellectual, whereas Grace itself is spiritual; there is a severe mismatch between these two spheres of our existence. In harmony with Quaker tradition, I think it is more fruitful to try to describe Grace experientially than to try to define it. The following poem is the result of my attempts at such a description.
- when you can look through, and beyond, even the deepest darkness into Light ...
- when you discover the heavy burden you have carried these many miles is actually your gift ...
- when you willingly endure the burning in order to give Light ...
- when you understand, finally, that you can defy death, by dying to be reborn and live ...
- Through Grace not only can we go on despite our disabilities, but also be nourished by them.
- John Newton's wonderful hymn Amazing Grace has a couple of remarkable lines:
- Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear And Grace my fear relieved.
I used to puzzle over the meaning of those two lines; I don't any more. During the deepest, darkest days of my 1986, it was Grace that revealed to me my worst fears; my most feared flaws; the utter unimportance of my existence as a single denizen of a tiny planet bound to an utterly unremarkable star in a galaxy of 100 billion other stars, itself unremarkable in a sea of 100 billion other galaxies; how much there is to learn, know, and do compared to how much I could ever hope to do. It was Grace that forced me to break out of my stifling self-centeredness and face my separateness in this vast system. Thus it taught my heart to fear. And it was also Grace that led me to realize that none of those fears mattered once I made the leap of faith to go on living despite my "insignificance" and "worthlessness''.
Grace is the topic of the last chapter in Scott Peck's amazing book The Road Less Traveled. Peck describes how he has treated patients who present with signs/symptoms of minor maladjustment, easily dealt with; but who, when they tell their life stories, easily should be, in his psychiatric judgment, seriously neurotic. Likewise those who show neuroses, but who, on the basis of their life history, should be floridly psychotic. And finally, those who come in with psychoses, who, by his best reasonable judgment, should be dead! He asks the question (paraphrased here) "Why should this be so; how does this happen?" His analysis leads to the conclusion that there can operate in our lives, a very powerful healing force, which he identifies as Grace.
Peck's book is a gift to all who read it. In fact, it seems to me that the wisdom and insight it can impart is nothing short of a miracle. I urge all readers of this essay to read his book. From his discussion, and what I have said above, one sees that it is when Grace touches us we can be healed; permanently. It it then that we can give to one another, comfort one another, be with one another, bear together the ups and downs of our lives, and life's limit by our mortality. It's a gift. It is when Grace is present that Light appears everywhere, and we learn how to pour Light from our lives into the lives of others. For me the experience is impossible to describe. I can only say that the world looks different: where I saw only problems before, I now also see solutions; where I felt weakest and most insecure, I have learned to rely on the strength and security of the rest of you. Guilt, grief, anger, and disappointment have been burned away. The void has been filled with Light.
I am an astrophysicist. I treasure knowledge of the laws of physics and the compelling picture they help us construct of the nature of the Universe. Yet I have often told my students that in the human arena, the most powerful force in the Universe is not among the four known forces of physics: gravity, the electromagnetic interaction, the nuclear "weak" and strong interactions. Rather it is Grace. Once touched by Grace, ones life changes forever. With apologies to Eugene O'Neil, it now seems like most of my life has been "a long night's journey into day".
Staff, H. (2008, December 11). Grace, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, November 26 from https://www.healthyplace.com/bipolar-disorder/articles/grace