Barbara C. Crafton, Jesus Wept: When Faith and Depression Meet (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 164pp.
The night that my first child was born, I remember calling my mother with the good news; she herself had news of her own. She had just been admitted to the hospital for clinical depression at the age of sixty-two. We couldn't have known it at the time, but that night was the start of a long, slow slide that didn't end until twenty years later when she died. My mother was a compliant patient with her doctors, and many people of faith and family prayed for her, but no treatments or medications ever freed her from her darkness.
Clinical depression is horrible for anyone, but as Barbara Crafton shows in her wise book, it presents extra conundrums for people of faith. Many try in vain to pray it away. Others search for some didactic purpose sent by God. Some attribute the plague to demons, whether real or figurative. The pious platitudes are endless. Well-meaning friends can suggest that taking medications constitutes a lack of faith. The victim experiences their own sense of shame and feelings that their faith is a fraud. And how to stop those harsh voices inside your head?
Crafton combines the personal and the professional to good effect in this short book. She's served as an Episcopal priest for thirty years, and she's suffered as a victim of depression. She takes a nuanced and careful position toward her subject. We know the constellation of factors that can surround depression, like overwork, lack of exercise, brain chemistry, family history, and traumas; but we also know that for many sufferers, depression remains uninvited and inexplicable, no matter what they try. Symptoms are deeply personal and vary widely, and so do the "ideological molds into which individual experiences of depression are poured" (83).
Crafton writes at length and with candor about her own experiences of depression as a person of faith and a counselor to parishioners; she also includes extensive descriptions by other victims of depression. She explores the dark night of the soul, family history, suicide, electro-convulsive therapy, Mother Teresa's profound darkness in the book Come Be My Light (2007), and centering prayer. In her view, there is no reason to separate or place in conflict divine aid and human therapy. What people of depression need, she says, are both compassionate truth-tellers and competent care givers. Avoid quacks of faith and medicine. This is a wise book that I highly recommend, along with several others: Against Depression (2005) by Peter Kramer, Acedia and Me (2008) by Kathleen Norris, and Kathryn Greene-McCreight's Darkness Is My Only Companion; A Christian Response to Mental Illness(2006).