The noonday demon {guest post}


I have been privileged to have known Kath for more than a decade. She is not the shouty sort, you have to listen in close. But it is worth it, every whispered word is worth it. Over to Kath:

 

As I sit here wondering how to participate well in this excellent series on God and our struggles I find myself wishing my struggles in this life were more glamorous, more obvious, more dramatic. I wish they were more tangible and easily defined.  My struggles in life are an ongoing slog, a battle that doesn’t always look understandable to me, let alone anyone else.

 

For as long as I can remember I’ve struggled with despair, with cynicism, with doubt and with the big question of ‘what on earth are we doing here’?  For as long as I can remember I’ve lived on the darker side of life. As a teenager I went through the classic angst, the dark poems, the despair, the wondering what the point of all this is and those thoughts have never left me. I’ve wished that them leaving was a matter of growing up but it’s been 20 years now and I still taste melancholy, darkness and despair on a regular basis.

 

The black dog, curtain or whatever term you put to it still visits.  Sometimes announced, mostly unannounced and paralysing for my soul.  I’ve recently discovered a new term for it  through reading Kathleen Norris’ book on acedia. The noonday demon.  It seems Monks have known about it for years. That sense of apathy, sloth, lethargy that quickly can spin into deeper melancholy, self-pity, self loathing and despair. It’s an inward self-orientated battle. I can’t tell what is sin and what is just my natural state in this condition. It’s confusing and entrapping.

 

God in these times feels a million miles away, a laughable concept, a cosmic joke, inaccessible. I’m trapped behind a glass screen unable to communicate with anyone well, everything is distorted and if only I could just get on with it, just find the key to the door I’d be out in the sunshine again and all would be well.

 

This is what it feels like:

It’s cold out here and the wind blows against my face as it fixes it’s eyes on the horizon. There is no comfort in this desolate landscape, there is nothing to see for miles and miles around here. Just endless marshland, boggy and treacherous to the soul. I am lost from you again, trapped here and longing to relate. The more I rage and the more I struggle the tighter the knots seem to become and the more I hurt in this wrestle. Spilling out, hitting out and kicking all around in the frustration. 

I push the numbers on the combination lock, trying different ways,  seeking the right code that will get me home, that will enable me to live with hope again, that will free me to love you well again, seeking the code that will take away these ropes, kicking against the indifferent skies. How can I get out of this land, wake from this nightmare, unlock the deadness in my heart and mind? Which key is it, I have a box, an ocean of keys and none of them fit this lock. 
Nature in Action

 
Over the years I’ve learnt to live with this state of my soul, I’ve learnt that some basic things help. Eating, sleeping, exercise and seeing people are all good things that can keep it at bay. But sometimes there is no cure, no hope for the thoughts that tear away at my insides, the feelings of worthlessness, of being useless, the condemnation of not being able to sort these things out for myself, the self pity that craves attention all the time, the feeling that those closest to me would be better off without me.

 
So where is God in these times? Not in the easy answers, not in the pull yourself together thoughts, not in the logical arguments for me to carry on believing in him, not in the best wills of friends who want to tell me to keep on trusting in him, not in the solutions to fix this problem. The more I try to address the issues swirling around in my mind the larger they seem to become and the deeper the darkness.

 
But I think God really is right here in the midst of it all.

 
I think he’s right here, at the bottom of all the despair. I think he’s in the friends who hold onto the truth for me and believe it for me when I can do so no longer. I think he’s in the friends who help me laugh at the despair so extreme it can’t possibly be true. I think he’s fighting on for me as I sink to the ground defeated by my enemies, trapped in my mind. I have no other way of explaining why I’m still here.

 
I’m learning over these years that these times of despair are not reality, that the light of the morning sun will rise again in each period of darkness. I’m learning to keep walking through the slough, to keep getting up each morning and acting in ways that love those around me however fake and unreal those acts feel. I’m learning to keep on choosing to do the small routine things until the light returns and I can feel again. I’m learning that the everlasting arms are there. I’m learning that my views about God in these times are distorted mirrors, that however elusive it feels or seems his love is as unfailing as the sun rising each morning.
Silvery Crescent - Partial Annular Solar Eclipse in Southern California

 But the darkness does not go. And I don’t think it will whilst I am here on this version of the earth. The darkness will not shift. We live in a broken aching world, my personality reflects and enlarges that, my head sees the pain more readily than the joy, the darkness, doubt and despair more readily than the hope and happiness. As the Indigo Girls put it so well, ‘darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear’. I don’t understand those who hear the light more than the dark.

 
The darkness does not go for me and mostly I’m ok with that. I think there is a place for me in God’s family still, I’m an important part of his body, I have a place here. Not because I can sing I’m H.A.P.P.Y with the best of them but because I’ve been near the bottom of the darkest places in the recesses of my mind and found that underneath it all, through the cynicism and despair, the doubt and pain that there is a crazy hope deeper than it all.

 
We have one who has been through the darkest of places and conquered them. We have one who patiently holds our hands through all this life can throw at us and who doesn’t require us to be optimistic positive people to be in his kingdom. We have one who will not snuff out a flickering flame. We have one who puts me in a body of people who can believe for me and I for them when needed.

 
I have a feeling I will always battle with the darkness but I have one who has won and who fights with me, I have one who will hold me when all else has gone. I have a deeper richer hope because I know it goes deeper than even the deepest darkness that there is in this world. I know wonder and joy because this is crazy true truth.

 
I hold onto this reality as I carry on walking through this world:

 
One day we who stumble over mountains, who get lost in the thickets of our minds, who fail to believe and be who we are made to be will dance and be free, we will have no more darkness, no more emptiness, no more shame, no more inability to believe. We will be home.

 
 
Kath Cunningham lives in the wonderful city of Brighton and is married to the exceptionally lovely husbandface. Together they are awaiting the imminent arrival of Mcsquirmy to turn their world upside down.  She’s slowly coming to terms with life beyond a ‘normal’ job and delighting in the thought of living a life beyond any kind of label attached to it.  She loves writing, drumming, reading, Jesus, drinking tea, sunsets, music, friends, family, good food, deep swimming to the depths conversation, wine, big crashing waves, Brighton and the lovely church family she is part of here. She can be found pontificating on God, life, struggling and more over at www.thelongwalkhome.co.uk   Follow Kath on Twitter.

 

 
Over to you:

  • “Where is God in these times? Not in the easy answers…” Can you relate to Kath’s experience?

 
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10 Responses to The noonday demon {guest post}

  1. Janice 1st October, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    Kath,

    Thanks for sharing this post. I’ve been out of town so I need to catch up on Tanya’s blog, and I’m so glad I did this morning. I don’t know that I’ve ever struggled as deeply as you with the darkness, but I’ve certainly dabbled in the edges of it and some whom I dearly love have been deep in the darkness. So thank you for this. Your comment above about the “Christian Cheese” fits both the music and often the general reaction to depression from well-meaning Christians. It is so refreshing to read of someone’s struggles that doesn’t belittle the pain and hardship while still seeing God’s goodness. I’ve been struck so much lately with the pain that is so prevalent in our lives and how little I feel like it is…validated by other Christians. It’s ok to give your prayer request for safe travel to grandma’s house, but the true, deep struggles either aren’t shared or can be chalked up to lack of faith. But it won’t do to gloss over the pain and just keep shouting that God Works All Out for Good. If God is God then he is deeper than the pain and he is so vast that no matter how small we are he is still with us.

    When I first heard “Hard to Get” I was young and had lived a very gentle life. I was a bit worried about Rich that he might not have as much faith as I did. 🙂 Since then I’ve been so grateful that there are Christians who will admit how hard to get God can be.

  2. Charity Jill 25th September, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

    Reading “Acedia and Me” was like hearing someone tell me about myself–such a powerful book! Thank you for talking about the darkness that people of faith feel they need to hide. It is so important. If music is something you turn to for comfort, I recommend a band called “Brave Saint Saturn” – their 3 albums are sort of a conceptual documentation of acedia. “Invictus” and “These Frail Hands” are songs from their 3rd album that really do a good job of wrestling with the light and the darkness, and have “gotten me through” plenty of times.

    • kath 26th September, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

      Hi Jill, I love it when we all admit that the darkness is there, somehow I think it gives it less power than when we cover it up and pretend everything is ok. Glad that Jesus has tasted that darkness with us, Gethsemane is such an important place for us to know we are not alone even when it comes to the maker of the world!

      Love music so will certainly check that band out- sounds very good! I’m always on the look out for more music that expresses how it really is in this life- rather than the large amount of Christian Cheese available! Rich Mullins ‘Hard to Get’ is my constant refuge in these times!

  3. Amy Young 25th September, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    I can relate to Kath … not from my own personal story, but through several I know who have had to slog through darkness. Watching them and feeling helpless, I think for those of us on the outside we underestimate the importance of prayer and presence. Just being with them (and not trying to filling the darkness with words to ease my discomfort). Thanks Tanya and Kath!

    • kath 26th September, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

      Hey Amy, good to hear from you, I know well that helpless feeling, we want to do something to make things better, to make the sun come out again and just being there seems somehow not enough, it really is enough. I love the people who hold me in the dark and when I’m open enough to admit what I’m really thinking don’t try and persuade me otherwise but just hold me and tell me God loves me and hold that belief for me when I can’t. Great to have people who know what reality is when my brain has lost the plot 🙂 Don’t underestimate the power of someone talking about normal things and being around to listen!

  4. Dawn Fallon 25th September, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    I most definitely relate to Kath. Will follow on Twitter. A woman after my own heart 🙂

    Having suffered an emotional breakdown in my early 50’s I really relate to how God seems so far away in the dark times, and I had the shocking thought once “Why don’t you just forgive God and move on” – I was shocked because it’s us that needs the forgiveness, but in my pain I felt abandoned by God. It was at that point that I began to see our God – who is Almighty, All-Powerful, Omniscient and Omnipresent – is also vulnerable. Vulnerable to our whims, our misundertandings of Him and our doubts and lack of trust.

    I nearly lost my faith, but am hanging on in there.

    Elijah suffered a nervous breakdown and hid his face int he cave and God asked him a question in a gentle whisper “What are you doing here Elijah?” …..it’s a good question, and quite a hard one, but sometimes I believe God asks us hard questions to move us on from our depression, breakdowns, brokenness and darkness? Thank you Kath – you write from the heart and I love that 🙂

    • kath 26th September, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

      Hey Dawn, think there is such crazy power in the thought that God is a God who made himself and makes himself vulnerable when it comes to dealing with us. Too often it’s easy to ignore his breaking heart in the midst of his power and might but I find comfort in the prophets when God pleads with his people to listen to him and know there is life in him…

      Love Elijah as well- love that he was so brutally honest in his despair and God gave him food, sleep, rest and more of Himself 🙂

  5. Mia 25th September, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    Dear Kath
    Oh, dear one. I don’t want to say much because this is the time one quickly can turn into a Job’s friend and that is the last thing you need at such a time! I KNOW what you are talking about, like in really KNOW! What gives me hope until this storm in my being has spent itself, is to give my spirit into our Pappa God’s Hands, asking Him to glorify Hinself in and through me. Then I read Psalm 22. Wouldn’t it be great if I could email you my heart, compassion, love and a big, big bear hug! And Tanya, thank you for introducing us to one of our Lord’s gems!
    Blessings sweet, precious one.
    Mia

    • kath 26th September, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      Thanks for the encouragement Mia 🙂 Always good to share this journey with those who know the darkness and know the one who holds us in the darkness…

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Guesting today over at Thorns and Gold | The Long Walk Home - 25th September, 2012

    […] Until then blogging, twitter and facebook have their uses and I’ve been delighted to be back in touch with the lovely Tanya Marlow, who I still remember as a sparkly new fresher at Grey College Durham and was very glad she helped turn around our CU into more than a social club, even if she did invite houseparty speakers on their basis of hotness (this may or may not be true…). Our paths crossed again when working for UCCF and now we interact in this world of blogging. Tanya does things properly in this world and has regular series/posts and interacts well with others, I sporadically throw out some random thoughts every now and again with all my best intentions of regular posting generally going out of the window. Ah well, very kindly she’s asked me to contribute to her brilliant series on struggling and God and so I have shared my story. You can find it here.  […]

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