A Companion in Darkness

After completing the first draft of my spiritual memoir, I sent it to several friends who had shown an interest in my reflections. One friend wrote back and asked if I had read the book Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by. I had not, but I soon picked up a copy at my local library.

Greene-McCreight is an Episcopal priest who, like me, battles bipolar. Darkness Is My Only Companion is her attempt to wrestle with her illness and make sense of it in light of the church’s teachings. It is an honest, searching work that serves well to provoke thought about how Christians can best respond to the needs of those with bipolar.

One strength of Greene-McCreight’s approach is that she provides a balanced, Biblical perspective on healing. Quoting Ecclesiastes 4:12, she writes,

“‘A three-fold cord is not quickly broken.’ The three cords to my rope were the religious (worship and prayer), the psychological (psychotherapy), and the medical (medication, electroconvulsive therapy, and hospitalization).”

In addition to being a parish priest, Kathryn is a wife and mother whose bipolar symptoms first appeared when her children were quite young. She agonizes over the dilemma of her depression:

I would avoid the family, in part because the noise was so painful to me that I could not stand it and in part because I did not want to make others miserable by my presence. I did not understand at that time that my family and friends truly missed me. I later came to realize this and moved my nest from our bed to the living room as I improved. I was silent and still unable to move, but at least I was there, with the children and my husband.

One of the greatest blessings of this book for me was found in Greene-McCreight’s thoughtful theological and pastoral reflections on the Christian response to suicide. She writes,

“… a Christian’s suicide, especially that of a Christian teacher or pastor, is the final act of disobedience, of betrayal of the Creator. Of course, I know this is often not consciously chosen, or when it is conscious, it is a choice born of tremendous unbearable pain.”

She goes on to consider those left behind, citing an example of a friend’s pastor who suffocated himself. Finally, she acknowledges,

“… the stakes are high: the Christian’s suicide in effect contradicts every good word about God one could ever have preached, undoes every good work dedicated to God and neighbor that one could ever have accomplished. I cannot allow myself so to undermine my very life’s work. I pray to God for strength to hold on.”

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