Sunday, October 27, 2013

How Deep the Waters

“Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through” (Ezek 47:5).

Ezekiel, like most prophesy in the Bible, has at times struck me either as obscure and alienating or as clarity and truth. At an intellectual level, I enjoy Ezekiel’s prophesy because of the vivid images, the images that both are seeing and emphasize seeing, and that speak to the desperate hope of an exiled people that they will come home. At an emotional level, I often feel frustrated because the text is confusing and sometimes much too literal for my liking.

Ezekiel 47:1-12 records Ezekiel’s vision of a great river flowing from the threshold of the temple. The vision itself is understood in the context of the Babylonian exile: the temple has been desecrated and destroyed, and the people carried away to a foreign land. For Ezekiel, the exile is the result of Israel’s sin, and her ongoing willingness to sin in breaking her word to the Babylonian king. The emotional core of the book is two-fold – the rebuilding of the temple, and the purification and return of the people to their land where God will rule over them. When Ezekiel sees the river flowing from the threshold of the temple, it is the near-culmination of his visions of a restored people, a restored worship, and the restored rule of God.

The river that flows down from the threshold of the temple begins as shallow waters, only ankle deep. As the man in his vision leads him the distance of a thousand cubits, Ezekiel find the water to be knee-deep. A thousand more, and the water is up to his hips. A thousand more, and he finds the waters too deep to pass through.

The image of waters too deep to pass through is a powerful one. Imagine standing in shallow water and walking gradually onward as the water rises and rises up your body, cool and smooth, pressing on your chest and finally coming up just below your chin. It’s a crushing, suffocating feeling to me, so much water, knowing that to go onward is to risk drowning. Sometimes depression can feel like a deep river, never-ending waters rising up, a strange sense of calm on the surface of the water as you’re drowning.

I imagine this is how exiled Jerusalem must have felt: a people finding themselves further and further from the temple, the waters rising against them, the wild and quiet desperation. The river carries you away from holiness, familiar places, and takes you in its rising depths to strange lands where you are a stranger. I imagine the loneliness of a people standing deep in the waters by themselves, trying to get by, trying to make sense of it. The feeling that you are being carried further and further away from God, and that He has let you be taken. Ezekiel has certainty because he’s been led in a vision, but those to whom he speaks are a people searching for hope and whom he believes must be changed.

The image of deepening waters has always frightened and disturbed me, but here in Ezekiel I find it turns around on itself. Although the river moves further and further from the temple, there is no doubt that it flows from it and that it is holy. As the river flows, deeper and deeper, it regenerates the sea and the plants around its shores, bringing fruit to the trees and life to growing things. (47:6-12).  The temple itself has been restored, the center of faith and of the people – a people who need to be submerged and purified by the depth and force of God’s transforming power, giving them new hearts that they might turn and return to God’s rule, that they might turn and live.

Ezekiel’s vision, strange as it is, speaks of the promise of newness of life and a restoration of righteousness, to the glory of God. I’m not sure why this passage drew me in, as I have so little to say about it, except that it made me see the image of rising waters in a new way.

Sometimes depression can feel as though you’re being carried further and further away from God, further and further away from holiness, from the center of your being. But if the swelling waters that carry you come from God, you are never truly far from Him no matter how far you travel. I don’t believe that depression comes from God in the way that the water flows from the temple – God does not create it to carry you away, to swallow you in its depths. But God is there in it, because God is the source of all goodness and even at the farthest points goodness remains.

Depression can make you feel like you’re drowning, quietly and alone. But the waters are also life-giving, fecund, and miraculous. I don’t believe that depression is some kind of gift from God that ultimately, on its own, has some great metaphysical meaning. But God can create goodness out of anything, even the darkest moments and the most frightening depths, if you allow Him that space. God is life-giving and calls us always to choose life. Unlike Ezekiel, we are not all prophets having visions. We do not know where we are going. But we trust that God, the live-giving Source, will be there.

Depression can turn your whole world upside down. But in saving the remnant God works profound change and leads His people on new paths of righteousness. I don’t believe that depression is a punishment from God for our sins, or that it will purify us, but I do believe that God’s love is transformative and at work in all times and places.

You may feel as though you are being carried away, as though you are too deep in the river, as though the sea presses up against you and you are drowning. But no matter the distance, or the depths, there is no river that cannot be passed through, because God has the power to part the waters.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Birds and the Foxes

I recently participated in a group exercise where we discussed issues of our own spirituality. We all picked a photo of an animal from a big pile in the center of a table – the idea being to choose one that somehow captured your spirit.

I chose the raccoon, ostensibly because its facial markings show it to be a kind of superhero-bandit. Obviously not the noblest of creatures, but for some reason I still picked it out of all the others.

His whiskers are also charming
First, we had to describe how we thought about our animals. I looked at my racoon’s downturned eyes and thought he looked sad. The raccoon sneaks around all night, going through peoples’ discarded things, looking for food enough to live on. Although they must live somewhere, I rarely see the raccoons in our neighborhood haunting the same place: they seem uprooted, unsettled, homeless.

The raccoon isn’t a beloved animal: no one really wants them around, and if you see one you’re more likely to chase it away with a broom than to take a picture for your album of cute, fluffy fauna. Though they must mate and reproduce (there does always seem to be a supply of them) the raccoon strikes me as solitary, alone, and lonely. It lives with uncertainty, never quite sure what will happen next, where it will go, or what it will find.

Having thought about the animal we chose, we were asked to change directions and think about our spiritual practices. To be honest, I haven’t really been doing much lately. I don’t spend time intentionally in silence with God, or in reflection, or contemplation, or even the more physical disciplines of meditation. There are reasons for this, some of which are better than others, and none of which are adequate. I do go to church every Sunday for the celebration of the Eucharist, so that’s a spiritual discipline. I guess you could call it the heart of my spirituality. If it has a backbone, it’s the Daily Office. I try to pray the Office every day, although I’m not always successful. Sometimes, on bad days, I just do the readings and skip all the prayers. If I’ve had a really bad week, you can find me on Saturday night doing all the readings I’ve missed, struggling with guilt and a crushing sense that the psalter has no end.

There are drawbacks to this kind of spiritual discipline. I am often alone, saying the Office in my room, and although I know there are people all over the country praying with these readings, I still feel isolated. There is little room for spontaneity, and the prayers at times can feel impersonal and non-creative. My prayer is filled with words, and has little space for silence. But it also has some amazing qualities: I can count on its regularity, the discipline of following a practice, the same words spoken over and over again giving you space to move between and within them. It is communal because this form of prayer has the weight of history and the communion of the Church behind it.

We were asked to consider how the animal we chose related to the ways we think about our own spiritual practices. It suddenly seemed obvious to me that they way I’d framed my spiritual practice was profoundly affected by the way I’ve felt like I’m sliding down something with no bottom and no edges, and the way that I feel inadequate to deal with it, and afraid.

Like the raccoon, I feel like I’m picking up something left behind by somebody else long ago, not necessarily for me, but rather something I’ve just happened to find. I don’t have to put any real effort into discovering something new or making something of my own because I have found it already there. Sneaking around at night, mostly alone, taking what I have found to survive.

Like the raccoon, I feel a little bit uprooted, homeless, alone. Not so much because of where I’ve ended up: I like my church. But maybe because of how I left my last community – without intentionality. I left them without saying goodbye, without closure. I quit the groups I belonged to by email because I didn’t have time to do it in person. There are loose ends: I still receive their emails, and somehow am still the administrator of their Facebook page (I don’t know how to unhook it from my account and transfer it to someone else, which is why it has no content). I felt like I was running, and since I haven’t really worked out how to feel about what happened, I have lingering emotions connected to not knowing where I’m going to go from here.

Sometimes, like my animal, I feel as though I am surviving but nothing more.

People occasionally ask me why I chose to become Anglican. It’s true that, when I was preparing to be received, my sponsor helped me study the historical texts of the Anglican church, the theologies and doctrines that shaped and changed our faith, the beliefs we have held, and the breadth and depth of what Anglicanism allows in our communal relationship with God and each other. Understanding the brainy part of our faith was, I’m sure, some kind of a factor. And it’s true that I enjoy the Eucharistic liturgy, both the comforting similarity of what I grew up with and the exciting differences that leave room for new sparks of insight and the pure, unadulterated joy of discovery. I love the political and ecclesiastical structure of our faith, and the positions of our Diocese on the issues we grapple with were also something I considered.

But the truth is I chose the Anglican church because I fell in love with the Daily Office. When I had just started attending an Anglican Eucharist in the middle of the week, and was going to Anglican and Roman Catholic churches simultaneously, I switched my personal daily prayer from a Cistercian prayer form for laypeople to the Morning, Midday, and Evening prayers found in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. I remember taking that prayer book with me as I sat the Holy Thursday and Good Friday morning vigils at my Catholic church. I moved to Common Worship when I started praying Morning and Evening prayer with the Diocesan Theological College, and I’ve used other forms, like the one found in the BAS. With each of these liturgies, I’ve found a sense of wonder and excitement and peace. I love the Daily Office lectionary, and the way it carries me through the years. I love the sense of history and timelessness, and the rich depth of the texts we read. I love the substantial engagement with the Bible and the beauty of the Canticles. O Lord, open our lips, and our mouth shall proclaim your praise. When I began to pray the Daily Office, I felt like I had come home.

It’s true that, at times, with only this form of prayer to keep me going, I feel like I’m barely surviving. But it does feed me. It does nourish me. I may have found it by the wayside, I may not add anything to it or create anything in it, but it keeps me going in its unceasing rhythm. It is there, every single day, even when I’m not, even when I can’t seem to get up the courage to go looking for it. The raccoon may have nowhere to lay its head, but I have a dwelling place and it sustains me.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Greatest of These Is Love

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3).

Faith, hope, and love: the fruits of faith, gifts of the Holy Spirit. While we may receive many other gifts from God – speaking in tongues, musical ability, preaching, prophesying, children’s ministry, the ability to transform fabric into something beautiful (the list could go one forever) – faith, hope, and love are the abiding gifts into which all others are subsumed. Paul is very clear that, of these three, love is the greatest. Without love, all other gifts are empty and meaningless.

When theologians talk about love, they often like to divide it into categories like Storge, Philia, Eros, and Agape. Agape is privileged in the love category because it’s selfless and purely other-directed. But we don’t really need these categories, because Paul tells us what love is, and its qualities are true of many kinds of love. This list may strike you as familiar if you’ve ever been to a Western-rite Christian wedding, but bear with me.

“Love is patient and kind” (1 Cor 13:4). Love doesn’t rush people, it doesn’t get angry in a flash, even when the guy next to you on the train is leaning on your arm and snoring. Love pushes aside frustration. This isn’t to say that because love is patient it waits endlessly for you: love pushes you further than you thought you could go, demands your best of you, forces you to be more. Love is kind: it assumes the best, and is yourself acting your best, doing as you would have others do unto you. It is in the small things and the big things, the things that are expected and even demanded of you, and the things that go beyond expectation.

“Love is not jealous or boastful” (1 Cor 13:4). To love another is to embrace them in their happiness without grasping after it for yourself, to encounter a person for themself and not as a platform for your own self-expression. Love is a relationship that accepts both of you without resentment, and without seeking your own self-advancement at the cost of another person’s integrity.

Love “is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right” (1 Cor 13:5-6). To love someone is to not assume that you are right or better or more important than them. Love builds up because it is not puffed up. Love allows for the possibility that you’re wrong and that you might have to say you’re sorry. Love doesn’t resent other people for you being wrong, or for demanding better of you. Love doesn’t mean accepting sin or wrongdoing on your own part or others’, but it does mean learning to love them through it, both by staying true to what you believe and by not allowing it to change the way that you love another.

Paul defines love by what it is and isn't, even though in many ways it slips through our grasp: love is a great and precious and glorious mystery.  

Like many people living with depression, I have often had difficulty with love. We live in a love-obsessed and love-saturated culture, surrounded by dating websites and pictures of perfect families and drawings where God looks like Santa Clause. Self-help manuals populate our bookstores, telling us how to better love our partners, our children, our parents, and ourselves. Love has become a kind of Holy Grail of self-fulfillment – all you need is love.

For myself, a sign I might be heading for a more serious depressive episode is increased affective flattening – a technical psychiatric term specifying blunted emotional responses to everyday stimuli, including and especially happy things. I don’t feel happy when happy things happen, and sometimes I don’t feel sad when devastating things happen. This feeling that you’re living in emotional bubble-wrap is relatively common among people with chronic or prodromal major depression, but it isn’t talked about as much as the other, more overt signs of emotional breakdown. Among other things, what this means is that I don’t necessarily feel love. I don’t feel that you love me, and I don’t feel that I love you.

I’ve struggled with feeling that maybe I can’t love. I’ve wondered, at times, if because I don’t feel love whether love is a capacity I lack. I wonder about what that means for my life as a Christian: I am called to love the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, and with all my strength, and my neighbor as myself, but what if I don’t love them? I am called to love my enemies, but what if I can’t even love my friends? Paul is clear that, without love behind them, all our gifts are nothing, all that we bring to God and the Church is nothing, and by our practice of faith we gain nothing. If I don’t feel love, am I anything more than a loud empty noise?

But love, while it often encompasses and involves emotion, is far more – and far other – than what we feel. Love, as we see in Paul’s descriptions, is about how we choose to behave toward others. Love is treating people with dignity and respect regardless of how we feel. Love is choosing selflessness, and kindness, and truth over simple self-desire and the easy solution. Not feeling the emotions of love doesn’t mean that you don’t have love. Love is about the way you choose to live your life.

This doesn’t mean that love is easy for people living with depression. Love isn’t easy at the best of times. We’ve all loved someone and lost our temper over something that shouldn’t have made us angry. We’ve all disappointed someone we love. We’ve all been judgemental. We’ve all chosen our own needs over those of a loved one. Relationships can be frustrating and challenging and it’s easy, in those moments of difficulty or disagreement or just plain exhaustion, for love to fail. We’ve all had those moments where we visualized strangling the snoring, leaning stranger on the train, not to mention the flashes of anger toward those who have genuinely hurt us, or whom we just plain dislike.

Of course love is difficult if you struggle with an illness that can leave you short-tempered, tired, and prone to negativity. But love is difficult for everyone. We all fail at it, and that doesn’t change the fact that love is a choice we must make anew every day, every hour, and every minute of our lives. We have a responsibility to choose love regardless of the cost. We have a responsibility to choose love after we have failed at love.

There are times that we don’t feel as if we can love, that we don’t feel capable of making that choice, of giving ourselves to another. There are times when we feel mired in darkness and despair, swallowed by some strange creature and not knowing when – or if – we will be free. But who is to know the language of our souls, that maybe under the darkness we are choosing love even though we don’t know it? Hidden deep inside us are things that God sees in the dark, and that one day will be shown in the light.

We are never alone in trying to love. When we are failing, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). We do not stand alone in choosing love, in trying to love, in striving for love. Jesus preached the Gospel with His face set towards Jerusalem – God has faith. Jesus told us about the Kingdom which is coming – God has hope. And God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son – God has love. And God’s love is strong enough to carry us through the darkness.  

“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor: 13:13).

Saturday, October 12, 2013

It Will Be Opened

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mt 7:7-8).

In the choirs I belonged to, we used to sing a hymn called “Seek Ye First” that incorporated this second verse:

Ask and it shall be given unto you;
seek and ye shall find;
knock and it shall be opened unto you.
Alleluia, alleluia.

It’s a beautiful, happy little song about God’s promises to us: that God will be there when two or three are gathered in His Name; that the door shall be opened when you knock; that if you seek, you will find. The hymn frames it all positively – these are the things God will do for you, rejoice and be glad! But if you’ve spent some time asking, and asking (and asking) God for something and haven’t seen hide nor tail of it yet, it’s tempting to question God’s so-called promises and fling your faithful hymnal into a woodchipper.

Ask, and it will be given you.

In Mathew’s gospel, this saying is in the middle of a list of aphorisms – pithy Jesus-sayings that stand on their own but that are sometimes elaborated with short allegory. Jesus continues with a story about a father who knows how to give good gifts: who, when asking his father for a fish, receives a snake instead (Mt 7:9-11)? What goes unspoken, and has been pointed out by many people far wiser than me, is that if you ask God for a snake He probably still won’t give you one. We cannot ask God for just anything and expect to receive it, because God is not a wish-granting gumball machine Who spits out whatever you ask for if you only put in the right change. If we ask God for things that aren’t good for us, surely He will not give them to us merely to keep His promise that what we ask for we shall receive. Even when we ask God for the ‘right’ things, for the things we’re sure we want and believe are good for us, who are we to know? Perhaps God does not grant us all we ask for for reasons we can’t begin to understand.

If God is the Good Father, then He only gives good gifts, which are not necessarily the same things we're asking for…

Seek, and you will find.

What is it that I am seeking? Most obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time seeking healing: reading all the books, trying all the tricks, at times somewhat desperately. Before this saying, Jesus tells us about all the things that the gentiles seek: food, clothing for the body, certainty about tomorrow (7:25-34). While He promises that God indeed knows these things are important, seeking them is not meant to be the goal of our lives. It’s a difficult realization that maybe I haven’t found what I’m searching for because I’m looking for the wrong things, in the wrong places…

Knock, and it will be opened to you.

To me, this has always felt like the biggest promise out of the three – if only I can find the door, and knock on it, it will be opened. A combination of seeking and receiving yields this ultimate promise that God will strip away obstacles, open doors, remove boundaries. God Who breaks down the walls and brings light into the darkness, revealing so many possibilities. I have often felt hemmed-in, broken, and constrained by my life, my reality, and my circumstances, so the idea that God will provide passage and spaciousness is deeply attractive. I have spent many years asking God to open the way, but maybe I haven’t found the right door yet…

I struggled with writing this post, and I don’t think it’s very good. The truth is that I have trouble with this passage in Matthew because although I believe in the reality of God’s promises I’ve struggled with feeling like they’re actually crap. One of the problems with depression, besides from all the self-doubting, is that I haven’t had a lot of time to feel like God is giving me the important things I’ve asked for. I haven’t asked for anything over-the-top, like a unicorn; mostly just some clarity about God’s plan for my life and maybe to feel a little better, to be a little better. I can’t help but feel disappointed, especially when confronted with passages like this one from Matthew. Why not for me, Lord? Why not me?

As I sat with this text over the last week, wondering why I was having so many problems with it, I realized that I was actually reading it wrong. As much as this passage is about God’s promises to us, it also isn’t really about that at all. This is the Sermon on the Mount: it’s about discipleship and what we should be doing.

Knock, and it will be opened to you.

We are meant to be knocking on the door to the kingdom of heaven by doing God’s work. Jesus tells us that not everyone who calls Him Lord will enter the Kingdom, but those who have done God’s will (7:21-23). Discipleship means working to discern God’s will for us and going ahead and doing it, regardless of any other concerns we may have, however important they may be. The Lord knows that it’s important, but discipleship means putting aside what stands in the way and learning to knock on the right door. The way to God will be opened when we put God first.

Seek, and you will find.

The Bible is full of stories about God seeking and finding us: God is the shepherd looking for the lost sheep, the woman looking for the missing coin. Beloved of God, we too are meant to be seeking, and as God seeks us we are called to seek Him. Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (7:33). Seeking God first, we shall find Him, and much more. In a relationship with God that puts Him in the center of our lives, we find the meaning of our discipleship and build our houses on a firm foundation.

Ask, and it will be given you.

We are called to ask God for God, and we will receive Him. God is the deepest desire of the human heart, but we deny and push Him aside so easily in our concern for worldly things, like bread, clothing, and answers about tomorrow. Discipleship is a relationship of mutual desire, and we are called never to stop seeking God.

Jesus calls us to a radical discipleship that has no regard for our limitations and problems: we are meant to be seeking God and his righteousness. But this doesn’t mean that our struggles are beneath God or that we shouldn’t bother Him with them. We are called to bring our whole selves to God and give ourselves over into His care. We are called to perseverance in our asking, to trust that God can handle our doubts, worries, needs, and despair. Life is filled with longing and sadness, as well as joy and love, and as we express these emotions to God in prayer our relationship with Him becomes deeper. We bring ourselves to God not so that we receive solutions to our problems, but so that God can give us the gift of Himself. We should not pull away from God because our lives don't match our expectations, or because of some idea that we have about God's promises; we must seek God as we are called to do, which is in every moment and with all our being.

We are called to humility, that we may admit to God, ourselves, and others that we don’t have everything and can’t do it all on our own. We can find only when we are truly willing to seek. We are called to empty ourselves of our presumptions, our preoccupations, and our arrogant desire to do and find everything – to empty ourselves so that we may be filled. We are called to pursue, to knock, to ask, so that God can reveal the way. Asking, seeking, and knocking are all spiritual disciplines through which we realize our discipleship as God gives Himself to us.

God gives us Himself, and we must not throw that gift in the mud because it isn’t what we hoped for. While we may hope for many things, behind it all there is but one true Hope.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Difficult Leper

“But Naaman was angry, and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and cure the leper’” (2 Kgs 5:11).

Naaman is a non-believing foreigner who finds himself in dire straits and turns to the God of Israel for help. A great, powerful commander of Syrian armies, he is described as a man of valour who has God’s favour, but also a leper. In the narrative of the Bible, he is not just a sick foreigner, but unclean. His life is a study in contradiction because he is revealed as both beloved and cursed by God, his life embedded in a narrative bigger than himself.

Naaman learns of the great prophet Elisha from a girl he has kidnapped in a raid against Israel, and is sent by the Syrian king to the king of Israel to be healed. Naaman brings with him treasure and a letter from his king. He has nothing else except his belief in the holy man he’s heard about from a slave.

At first, the king of Israel freaks out, thinking the Syrian king has sent him Naaman as some kind of horrible dare: obviously, he’s trying to start a fight because I am not God and I can’t cure this man.  The funny thing about kings of Israel is that they rarely think about their own prophets.

Luckily, Elisha hears about Naaman, and tells him to come on over so that he’ll know there’s a prophet in Israel.  Naaman comes with his entourage and stops at the door of Elisha’s house, expecting great things. Like, great, explosive, amazing things, that make him feel as special as he believes he is and end with his being cured of leprosy.

Imagine his disappointment when Elisha sends out a messenger to tell him to bathe in the Jordan seven times and be cured. Naaman is angry because he thinks he rates a prophet and not a messenger. Because he thinks he rates a spectacular, Technicolor cure but instead is handed a simple task he has to do himself. He is important, and Elisha has made him feel small. He stomps off in a huff, going back to his own country.

You should check out the story for yourself, found in 2 Kings 5:1-14: there is 100% more nudity in the Bible version than mine (not really).

Naaman’s disappointment is a human one: his problem is so big, so all-consuming, and so life-defining, of almost mystical importance, that he won’t feel satisfied with a simple solution. The solution needs to be complicated, involved, and big – as big as the problem. How do you let go of something that has consumed you when the solution has no psychological resonance? You’re stuck holding the ragged ends, saying to yourself, ‘Was that it?’ A weird problem-hangover besets you…can you accept the answer that doesn’t look big enough to be an answer? How do you deal with the fallout of having suffered for so long when solving the issue turns out to be no big deal?

When our problems are big and complicated and consuming, we want big and complicated solutions. We’re looking for a kind of balance between the problem and the answer, a weight and counterbalance. How can something so simple be a solution? It’s much easier to believe in the big, messy, epic solution than in the easy one.

Naaman doesn’t believe in the solution, not at first. He is indignant, insulted: how dare you think that my problem isn’t big and real and in need of a big and real remedy? How dare you make fun of me as if I am to be trifled with? My problem will not be solved through childish, simplistic gestures.

Luckily, his servants (being cleverer than him, as servants so often are) see through his touchy feelings: “My father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it” (5:13)? Hearing them, Naaman goes down and dips himself seven times in the Jordan, and is made clean (5:14).

Sometimes it’s difficult to see the glory of what God is offering us because it hides in the small things, dwarfed by the struggles we live with, and we are too busy thinking we know what God’s work looks like to recognize it when it isn’t what we expect. Naaman certainly doesn’t see it.

He doesn’t see the presumption of a high-ranking officer from a neighbouring country asking a foreign God for healing – all he sees is his own power. But here, through Elisha, the God of Israel proves His might and mercy to one not chosen to be among His people.

He doesn’t see the irony of a Hebrew prophet offering healing to a man who represents their oppressors – a king strong enough to order their sovereign about. Naaman is part of an historic drama played out in the way God responds to His people’s infidelities, and Naaman does not know it.

Naaman sees an un-respectful and unconventional prophet, but he does not see his own disrespect: arriving at Elisha’s home, he sits upon his chariot and doesn’t move, expecting to be waited upon.

Told to bathe in the Jordan, all Naaman sees is its unworthiness compared to the mighty rivers of Damascus. He doesn’t know the history of these waters; that they are holy; that to enter them is to come into the promised land given to the twelve tribes whose stones are sunk in its depths; that to bathe seven times is to emerge a new creation. Naaman doesn’t see it because he’s too caught up in his idea of what a miracle should look like.

Sometimes, when living with depression, we wait for a miracle without actually doing anything about getting one. Like Naaman, we sit on our chariots, content to wait for God to come to us. But God seldom does exactly what we expect Him to do, especially when we just expect God to know what we want and give it to us.

Sometimes we’re all too eager to try the grand gesture in the hope that our depression will be cured, like climbing the stairs to St. Joseph’s Oratory on your knees (what they don’t mention in the promotional pilgrim material are all the tiny little rocks).

Sometimes we’re too caught up in looking for the Big Fix to see what God is actually offering us. Like Naaman, we have to learn to see beyond our preconceived notions and embrace the messengers God is sending us.

Wrapped up in depression and our own personal narratives, it’s easy to forget that our lives are part of something much bigger and that God’s work in our lives actually isn’t all about us. Naaman’s healing, while it obviously helps him, is more about God than it is about him. Naaman’s miracle is for the sake of God’s glory, that he – and those who hear of him – may know there is a prophet in Israel (5:8).

Naaman’s transformation is more than skin-deep: he returns to the prophet humbled, getting down off his chariot and eager to bring God’s power back to his homeland (5:15-19). God’s healing does not merely remove illness: it transforms lives. Like Naaman, we are called for God’s purposes. Like Naaman, we are called to recognize God’s work in the seemingly unworthy message from the unlikely messenger, that we might give our lives more fully over to Him in faith and trust.

Listening to God can be as easy and as difficult and going down to bathe in the Jordan. But we have to learn to swallow our pride. We have to learn to let go of our expectations. Getting to the Jordan means going through the desert, and it is never possible without God’s help.