Bulletproof in black like a funeral

It’s Holy Week.

I have been engaging in conversations over the last two years with a gentleman who has suffered bouts of clinical depression, and asked him last month if I could share some of the insights he has shared with me over those years. I mean his insights into the terrors of depression and the struggle to preserve faith in spite of everything. He was very willing to have me do so, he said, to benefit others. I am humbled and beyond grateful.

I have known a number of people over the years who have suffered from depression, and its companion illness, anxiety. I have kept a page in my journal on this man’s journey, and created a page full of words — a sort of “word collage — trying to preserve the drops of blood he has let fall in my heart as he would describe his soul’s agony. Here is about half the page:

Powerlessness. Stuck. Collapse of self. A world of shadows, a world color-drained to sickly grey. Absence of the future tense. The dreadful weight of the past tense. The dizzying fracturing of the present tense into a thousand unrelated pieces. Chaos. Self-knowledge yields only darker confusion: who am I? Do I even have an “I” left? I am an inner compass without a magnetic pole to guide me: where do I go? I spin aimlessly. Rudderless, purposeless, goal-less. Anger, loathing, resentment turned inward, buried beneath my pride and a thousand barriers of defense, nowhere, no one to cry out to who cares. Silence is not “being listened to,” but “being forgotten.” Condemned to recycling my garbage within, no exit, no cleansing of filth. Nowhere to offer it, release it, redeem it. I hide. Protect. Withdraw. I am broken, useless to the core. Fading into non-being, like sunset on a cloudy day. Fear to open up, fear of poison coming in, fear there is nothing inside to give, fear there is no one outside to receive, reciprocate. Fear of a world of judging, piercing, cutting, all-seeing eyes, seeing shame, and wielding sharpened tongues sheathed only out of pity. I avoid. I am unloved, unlovable, loveless. I have ruined all that once built me. I am a burden, wasted space. An ignored unknown, for nothing to know worth knowing. A wasteland, no oases, dead bones scattered. Alone in the crowd. Isolation. Impenetrable wall. A shell is hell, hell is full of emptiness. At the gates of despair: Where? Why? When? How? Who? How long, O Lord?

I have never been in these depths myself, but I have been privileged to walk with those who have. It is, in my judgment, one of life’s heaviest crosses, planted in the deepest center of the soul. It is an un-romanticizable, un-idealizable, prosaic cross, a true entry into the Lord’s cry from the Cross: “Eli! Eli!” Or maybe I can say it is our Lord’s entry into our “Eli! Eli!” — as I have always believed typology points both ways.

Once he asked me to pray with him on the phone. We prayed for about twenty minutes. Mostly him. It was intimate, beautiful, heart wrenching beyond words. It felt like mining Romans 8:26. His mind descended into his heart which descended into his gut, from whence he heaved his sobs. It was like being beneath the Cross, hearing what must have been an unceasing stream of gasping, mumbled, mostly unrecorded prayers let out by Jesus from the Cross. Taken out of the grittiest psalms, no doubt. I thought of this while thinking of his prayer: as Christ’s mystical Body, we extend in time and space the all of His prayers from the Cross.

Those thoughts made me reflect further, as he prayed I could hear, in some real way, my friend was filling out what Christ began in crying out Psalm 22 from the Cross. First, verses 2-3:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
You are far from my plea and the cry of my distress.
O my God, I call by day and you give no reply;
I call by night and I find no peace.

As his prayer continued, the shrill sounds of desperation shaded into new emotions that opened out for the first time into a future sense that something could be changed. Psalm 22:20-22:

O Lord, do not leave me alone,
my strength, make haste to help me!
Rescue my soul from the sword,
my life from the grip of these dogs.
Save my life from the jaws of these lions,
my poor soul from the horns of these oxen.

His were cries of pain and regret and sorrow, yes. But when he had turned from our conversation about these things to prayer, his inner storm became acts of hope. I could only think, it is only infants who no longer believe their cries will be answered who  cease to cry out. Trust had begun to fill his prayer as he continued. Like Psalm 22:5:

For he has never despised
nor scorned the poverty of the poor.
From him he has not hidden his face,
but he heard the poor man when he cried.

He staggered about in fragmented sentences, fractured thoughts, toward the conclusion of his extraordinary prayer. His frozen soul seemed to melt, was drenched with fiery hot tears. Suddenly he said, “Amen.” Silence. Then he said, “I feel washed. Refreshed. Better.” Psalm 22:31-32:

And my soul shall live for him, my children serve him.
They shall tell of the Lord to generations yet to come,
declare his faithfulness to peoples yet unborn:
“These things the Lord has done.”

“My soul shall live for him.” “These things the Lord has done.” In his long and winding prayer I heard this shattering undertone: “I know I am loved.” In praying he awoke to himself, awoke to faith with hope in love. 

I turn to Twenty One Pilots, as ever. I needed a song of a very human search for hope in the midst of the ruins of this old creation, hope that

this idle world of mortal gloom
Shall yet be saved before consumed.

Their song, “Fairly Local,” sings of their proximity to the cries of those “good people” who have descended into the hell of depression. Only “the few, the proud and the emotional,” who understand the dark and frozen world of depression, will want to hear this message. Only those who are willing to bear the burden of empathy are prepared to get close enough to depression’s interior “funeral” will want to hear this music.

Tyler sings powerfully of the depressed state of mind in the stanza beginning with, “I’m evil to the core…” But later he returns with a stunning redemptive reversal in the stanza beginning with, “I’m not evil to the core…” This reversal is precisely what I witnessed that day we prayed. Seeing that overlay made me appreciate even more that the genius of this group is its capacity for compassion, to enter into others’ suffering and then, in an eminently human way, to pray with them.

You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. — Luke 6:36

Listen if you wish:

I’m fairly local, I’ve been around
I’ve seen the streets you’re walking down
I’m fairly local, good people now

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

I’m evil to the core
What I shouldn’t do I will
They say I’m emotional
What I wanna save I’ll kill
Is that who I truly am?
I truly don’t have a chance
Tomorrow I’ll keep a beat
And repeat yesterday’s dance

Yo, this song will never be on the radio
Even if my clique were to pick and the people were to vote
It’s the few, the proud, and the emotional
Yo, you, bulletproof in black like a funeral
The world around us is burning but we’re so cold
It’s the few, the proud, and the emotional

I’m fairly local, I’ve been around
I’ve seen the streets you’re walking down
I’m fairly local, good people now

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

I’m not evil to the core
What I shouldn’t do I will fight
I know I’m emotional
What I wanna save I will try
I know who I truly am
I truly do have a chance
Tomorrow I’ll switch the beat
To avoid yesterday’s dance

Yo, this song will never be on the radio
Even if my clique were to pick and the people were to vote
It’s the few, the proud, and the emotional
Yo, you, bulletproof in black like a funeral
The world around us is burning but we’re so cold
It’s the few, the proud, and the emotional

I’m fairly local, I’ve been around
I’ve seen the streets you’re walking down
I’m fairly local, good people now

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

I’m fairly local, I’ve been around
I’ve seen the streets you’re walking down
I’m fairly local, good people now

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

Yeah

I’m fairly local, good people now
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Good people now
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Good people now
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

3 comments on “Bulletproof in black like a funeral

  1. nos and crew says:

    Your friend is in our prayers peace be with him always, always…

  2. Jennifer says:

    Thanks, first and foremost to your friend for sharing his struggle with us. Thank you for your careful and loving juxtaposition of his cross with the Psalms. God love you both!

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