Sadness Is Not Depression

I awoke today with a deep sadness. My beloved dog, after a brief and terrible illness, died yesterday. Before the morning fog cleared from my head, I was waiting for her to stand, stretch, and put her front paws on the bedside, as she did every day. And she wasn’t there.depression

One day I hope to write about this wonderful and strange relationship between humans and dogs. It goes deeper than an owner and a pet. Something very primal has bound us together for millennia. Man and dog walked into civilization side by side. We evolved together. We belong together.

And one day, I hope to comprehend why I cried harder after losing my two dogs than I cried when my father, dearest friends, and beloved relatives died. I’m not even close to really understanding that, but I’m still thinking about it. The deepness of that bond is mysterious and powerful. When they are gone, we mourn, perhaps more than we think we “should” for an animal.

That’s sadness, and we all can understand sadness. It’s too easy to say that sadness is caused and depression is uncaused. That’s simply not always the case. It is, however, a useful place to start.

I could feel the difference between sadness and clinical depression this morning. There was a hole in my life where my friend used to be. She was gone and she was not coming back. There was a reason for the way I felt, and that feeling is an important aspect of human life. However awful it is, we should not wish away the ability to feel sorrow. Without it, we’d be less than fully human.

Finding the language to distinguish between sadness and depression is challenging. If you’ve never been depressed–true clinical depression–you simply can’t understand the distinction. We’re left to rely upon sensory analogies that don’t quite capture it.

There’s a texture to depression that is very different from sorrow. Depression is like a yawning chasm deep in your soul. It’s both a weight and an absence. It’s a clinging dank thing that feels almost alive. It seems separate from you. It’s like being suffocated emotionally. Depression is a pain that can almost at times seem to pass beyond pain and into something that’s simply living death.

Sorrow is different. It’s a fist around your heart that squeezes tight. A heavy enough sorrow can drag you deeply into the dark where you find situational depression, but it doesn’t have to. These sorrows can, in the words of Simeon, be the sword that pierces our heart. Even the kind of sorrow that tears us apart — the loss of a wife, child, parent — is not the same as clinical depression, however profound and deep that sorrow feels.

Everyone gets sad but not everybody experiences clinical depression. (And, of course, sadness is a common state for the depressive.) This is why people who say “everybody gets depressed!” or who, to pick an example near to hand, tell you how bad they felt when they lost their dog, are poison for depressives, who just feel pushed deeper into their own, apparently meaningless, uncaused suffering,

I understand sorrow. My father died last summer after a lengthy illness. I wept, I grieved, and it all made sense in a way because that’s how life moves.

When I was a child, my best friend died of cancer. I wept, I grieved, and though it made much less sense than the death of my father (as the deaths of children always must), even then I understood the sorrow. There was a cause, as insensible as the cause seemed. It was part of the tapestry of life, which is bordered on all sides by death.

This morning I awoke feeling sadness because a close companion of many years will no longer be there to love me and be loved by me. I will continue to feel sad, but in time the sadness will be tempered by fond, bittersweet memories, as life and time proceed on their inevitable course.

As we mature enough to comprehend our mortality, we realize that these sorrows are the crosses we are called to bear as part of the inevitable progression of life.

Depression never makes that kind of sense. It’s the never the sharp sting that reminds us we’re alive, but rather the emptiness that makes us wonder if life is even possible.

And yet, it must not be senseless. It must be a kind of calling, as all crosses are. It is a cross that, for too many, never finds even the meager blessing of a Simon to help bear the load. It is a cross that can feel a thousand feet tall and of such weight that it seems impossible to shoulder. It is a cross that appears stripped of all meaning or spiritual benefit.

But it is still a cross, and in carrying it we are drawn closer to Christ, who accomplished his greatest act by passing through suffering to resurrection. Some are called to suffer more, and in the emptiness of depression can fail to see any meaning at all.

That is a mistake. Christ did not free us from suffering or sorrow, but he made it possible to free that pain from its oppressive nature. All things ultimately come to joy in Christ, and if the Christian believes—really believes—in redemption and the life eternal, the oppressiveness of clinical depression can be fought at a spiritual level. The suffering are close to Christ, who promises that, although we sorrow, our sorrow will turn to joy.

And in a way that will sound perverse to anyone with serious clinical depression, this curse can be a blessing. The depressive can be acutely sensitive to emotional states, sometimes painfully so. Emotions which are alien to most people are vivid to a person who suffers.

There is an insight that leads to hard-won wisdom and empathy. There is a deeper sense of connection to the suffering servant who prayed that his Father would let the cup pass from his lips, who wept for Lazarus and lamented for Jerusalem, who cried out in despair from the very cross from which he defeated death. We are intimate with that pain, and in that intimacy, we should find our meaning, our hope, our redemption.

We should never settle for the pain: we should fight it, treat it, medicate it, pray through it. But when, despite all our best efforts to heal, it comes again, we must know that in this moment we are not alone. Indeed, in those darkest times, our souls stretch across eternity to calvary, where all things are made new again.

Piercing the Unicorn

Now here’s as elegant a visual metaphor for the loss of virginity as you could want. The unicorn (a symbol of virginity) is resting on the maiden’s lap. The knight has pierced it with his spear (of obvious symbolism, as is the horn of the unicorn). Blood flows from the wound (also of obvious symbolism) as the maiden comforts the dying beast and mourns the loss of her purity. (Image from the British Library blog,  Harley MS 3244.)

 It’s a recurring motif in medieval art:

‘Desire of the Everlasting Hills’: A Powerful Witness to Catholic Teachings on Same-Sex Attraction

Last Saturday, I spent the evening at Villanova speaking with three impressive and eloquent people. Paul, Dan, and Rilene all have same-sex attraction, and all have embraced the Church’s teaching on chastity.

Their stories are told in Desire of the Everlasting Hills, a new documentary from Courage International. The approach is powerful and effective because it completely avoids buzzwords and polemic. It tells three very human, very moving stories.

My article on the film is up now at the National Catholic Register. Here’s an excerpt.

Their stories are unique, as befits detailed portraits of individuals, but the broader contours of their lives will be familiar to many with same-sex attraction. There is a movement into a lifestyle that is embraced with various degrees of acceptance and gusto, a life as a person attracted to persons of the same sex and then an interruption: an epiphany. Something radical and unexpected breaks through.

The most striking story is Paul’s. While driving to get his HIV test results, his sense of impending doom is interrupted by a feeling of peace and comfort and a voice: “Paul, you do not have AIDS because you have too much to do to make up for the way you’ve been living.” He was, indeed, HIV-negative, which was something he never expected, given his number of partners.

These moments are what drove the three to go public with their stories. Paul calls the documentary “a prayer answered. I felt that I came back to the truth very late in life, so, suddenly, I felt that need to use any time I have to express my love to God and my appreciativeness for all he’s done and that he never forgot me during all the decades I forgot him and turned against him. I prayed: Jesus, please give me a few years of strength and energy. It’s not because I don’t feel he has given total forgiveness and mercy, but so I can make up for the lost years when I couldn’t tell him how much I loved him.”

Read the whole thing.

Due to length, I cut some of my interview material that seems worth printing here.

Paul, from “Desire of the Everlasting Hills”

Paul was a member of Dignity (a dissident pro-homosexual “Catholic” group) before he found Courage, and I asked him to compare the two approaches to same-sex attraction. He faults Dignity’s “feel good” approach of affirming that what he was doing was good. “It’s very feel good and everybody loves you and God loves you no matter what you do. It was an affirmation that what I was doing was okay. It made me feel good because I thought I could have it all and be the person I wanted to be, and these people are thinking God is liking the way I am.

“There was never discussion in Dignity about consequences. We were never striving for anything. There was no goal. It was buttressing out entire being in what we are doing. The Catholic Church is more welcoming because it really cares so much that we find God in our hearts and once we do that we do that we follow that relationship. I didn’t feel like anyone [in Dignity] cared about me.”

Muslim Professor Murdered for Supporting Christians

Christians and Muslims lived side-by-side for centuries before the ISIS hoards descended upon Mosul.  Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a law professor from the University of Mosul, knew this well, and spoke out against the persecutions of Christians. He paid for his principled stand with his life when ISIS forces killed him.

From Vatican Insider:

Chaldean website – one of the news sources that offers the promptest updates on the inferno Christians are experiencing in Iraq – announced the news. Amidst the ocean of tragedies currently being witnessed in the Middle Eastern country, the website did not want to let this act of great courage go unnoticed. Professor Ali ‘Asali knew what he was risking: everyone in Mosul knows that in Raqqa – the Syrian city which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant seized last year –there are many human rights activists who have paid for their opposition to ISIS’ acts of intolerance with their own lives. But Al ‘Asali was nevertheless unable to stand by in silence.

And so are many other Muslims, who have launched the “I am Iraqi, I am Christian” campaign in response to the letter N’s written on the walls of Christian homes in Mosul. Yesterday some of them turned up outside the Chaldean Church of St. George in Baghdad, with a banner displaying the slogan and posted a picture on Facebook.

The same article reports that the infidel tax (jizyah) for dhimmis (non-Muslim, second-class citizens), which some Muslims portray as reasonable, is $450 a month: an “impossible sum” for the people who have to pay it or die.

In other news, ISIS torched an 1800-year-old church. At least no one was inside. This time.

If the story of Mahmoud Al ‘Asali is true, then he is a hero and a martyr for two faiths. God bless him and all like him.

And, through our tears of grief and rage, may we also recall that for Christians, martyrdom for the Truth is a blessed thing, as Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry observes:

And yet. Yet. Yet there must be joy.The Pauline hope, the anticipation of the Eschaton: yes, in the fullness of time, every knee will bend, every mouth will proclaim that Jesus is Lord, and every tear will be wiped from every eye. And in the Heavenly Jerusalem, the martyrs will reign as gods in unimaginable joy, their glorified wounds illuminating the new Heavens and the new Earth.

But there must also be joy today. Because for as hard as it is for us in the Modern world, for us who are still infants crawling on the path to sanctity, as Christians we must view martyrdom as an occasion of joy and thanksgiving. Happy are you when you are persecuted for my sake, the Lord tells us. Happy are you when you receive the great privilege of being an icon of the Cross, a mirror of God’s glory revealed in the form of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, of being totally faithful to the Teacher.

Through my tears, I must rejoice, for joy is the proper response of the Christian to martyrdom: joy of testimony, joy of fidelity, joy of Christlikeness, terrible joy of the Cross.

May all Christians give perfect testimony of the total love of Christ and give glory to God in the centuries of centuries.


German Government Returning to Manual Typewriters?

More fruits of our despicable surveillance culture:

The head of the Bundestag’s parliamentary inquiry into NSA activity in Germany said in an interview with the Morgenmagazin TV programme that he and his colleagues were seriously thinking of ditching email completely.

Asked “Are you considering typewriters” by the interviewer on Monday night, the Christian Democrat politician Patrick Sensburg said: “As a matter of fact, we have – and not electronic models either”. “Really?” the surprised interviewer checked. “Yes, no joke,” Sensburg responded.

Sensburg’s remarks were not greeted with enthusiasm:

“Before I start using typewriters and burning notes after reading, I’d rather abolish the secret services,” tweeted Martina Renner, an opposition member of the parliamentary committee investigating the activities of US and other intelligence agencies in Germany. Sahra Wagenknecht, Die Linke party’s deputy chair, described the suggestion as grotesque.

Christian Flisek, the SPD’s representative on the committee, told Spiegel Online: “This call for mechanical typewriters is making our work sound ridiculous. We live in the 21st century, where many people communicate predominantly by digital means. Effective counter-espionage works digitally too. The idea that we can protect people from surveillance by dragging them back to the typewriter is absurd.”

Yet while Sensburg may regret his comments, there is little question that revelations about digital surveillance have triggered a fundamental rethink about how the German government conducts its communications.

“Above all, people are trying to stay away from technology whenever they can,” wrote Die Welt. “Those concerned talk less on the phone, prefer to meet in person. More coffees are being drunk and lunches eaten together. Even the walk in the park is increasingly enjoying a revival.”

Last November, in the immediate aftermath of the revelations of NSA monitoring of Merkel’s mobile phone, the German government instructed its MPs to only use encrypted mobile phones for sensitive calls. The use of iPhones for intra-governmental communications is reportedly banned.

Since then, some have even questioned whether the state-of-the-art “Secusmart” encryption mobile currently used by the chancellor is safe from bugging attempts.

I think some reversion to low-tech solutions is going to be inevitable.

After 1600 Years, Monks Ejected From Mar Behnam by Islamists

The Mar Behnam Monastery (The Monastery of the Martyrs Saint Behnam and his Sister Sarah) was built in the 4th century as an act of penance by Sennacherib II. The Assyrian king had Behnam and Sarah, his son and daughter, executed for converting to Christianity, but later converted and repented.

From that time until this month, the site in Bakhdida has been maintained and expanded by monks of the Syriac faith, which was brought into the Catholic Church in the 18th century.

That has all ended. The monks were visited by ISIS forces and simply thrown out, not even allowed to take their relics:

A member of the Syriac clergy quoted the militants as telling the monastery’s residents: “You have no place here any more, you have to leave immediately.”

He said the monks asked to be allowed to save some of the monastery’s relics but the fighters refused.

Local Christian residents told AFP news agency that the monks walked for several miles before they were picked up by Kurdish fighters.

Earlier this month, Isis issued an ultimatum in Mosul, citing a historic contract known as “dhimma,” under which non-Muslims in Islamic societies who refuse to convert are offered protection if they pay a fee, called a “jizya”.

And thus another deeply rooted feature of Middle Eastern Christianity–one present centuries before Mohammed–is yanked out root and branch by savages.

Islamists Marking Christian Homes for Targeting/Confiscation

Christians in Mosul had until Saturday to “accept Islam, pay extra taxes to Islamic Sharia courts or face ‘death by the sword,'” according to a message distributed by ISIS.

Christians are fleeing, of course, and ISIS thugs are marking Christian homes in order to take care of them later. If the people have not left, they will face the Sharia courts or death. In any event, their homes are forfeit to ISIS forces.

Twitter is filling up with images of homes being marked with the letter “Nun” (ن), the Arabic equivalent of our “N” and the abbreviation for Nasara, or “Nazarenes”: what they call Christians in a gesture of contempt to make them seem like outsiders in their own land.

This is what genocide looks like.

And it doesn’t end well.


UPDATE: In the interest of fairness, I changed the word “Muslims” in the headline to “Islamists.” Christians and Muslims, obviously, lived together in peace before ISIS arrived, and “Muslim” casts too wide a net.

More of The Pill’s Glorious Legacy: Widespread Animal Mutation

from the Times of Trenton

‘Intersex’ fish found in Delaware, other rivers a result of hormone-disrupting chemicals

At first glance, most fish caught in the Delaware River look perfectly normal. But scientists who investigated further discovered something very unusual.

A sampling of certain male fish were found to be carrying female eggs.

These “intersex” fish were not only in the Delaware but in two other Pennsylvania river systems, according to a study done by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Scientists believe chemicals seeping into the rivers from various sources are causing this unnatural phenomenon.

From 2007 through 2010, USGS scientists collected samples of intersex fish from the Delaware, Susquehanna and Ohio rivers and their tributaries. This research, which was published last month by USGS fish biologist Vicki Blazer, is getting increasing attention among scientists, environmentalists and politicians.

A scientist from the Pennsylvania DEP catching fish to study in the Buffalo Creek in Juniata County, Pa. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Blazer discovered male smallmouth bass and white sucker fish taking on the female’s role of carrying immature eggs. Sample fish were collected from multiple sites along the rivers, including the Schuylkill River, a tributary of the Delaware 30 miles from Trenton. Nearly all the smallmouth bass and white sucker fish collected from the Schuylkill showed intersex deformities.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, this is the result of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the water. The fish’s endocrine system, which regulates hormones and reproductive systems, is being thrown off by the estrogen and estrogen-like chemicals being dumped into the water through both agricultural and human waste, such as manure and human waste water, along with synthetic chemicals coming from plastics and pharmaceutical chemicals that act like estrogens, such as the ones found in birth control pills.

Note how the writer buries the lede deep in the story and then forgets it, allowing the New Jersey Sierra Club to lie about the main problem, because that’s what the New Jersey Sierra Club and other so-called environmentalists do. They make it sound like industrial waste is the main source of the chemicals being pumped into the water, while it is largely the result of oral contraceptives, which pass into the water supply through the urine of women who take the pill, and cannot be filtered out by normal water purifying equipment.

So, in addition to reduced libido and increased risk of venous thrombosis, depression, and breast, cervix, and liver cancer, women taking oral contraceptives are also radically altering the environment. But, c’mon, y’know: sex!

If any other chemical was causing widespread and proven mutations in wildlife, the environmentalists would be going ballistic. But from them, not a peep because: seriously, guys: sex! It’s totally worth it! 

We are a sexually insane culture.

By the way, if you have a rudimentary communication skills, a functioning brain, and some simple techniques, you can do the family planning thing without pumping chemicals into your body. Look, we did the oral contraception route before we started taking our faith and my wife’s health more seriously. It’s not just possible to toss your pills, it’s actually wonderful.

Check out Simcha Fisher’s blog this week. She’s giving out a ton of natural family planning goodies for the next 13 days, because Simcha is teh awesomes.