Darkness Is My Only Companion by Kathryn Greene-McCreight: A Book Review
In putting forth “A Christian Response to Mental Illness” (the book’s sub-title), Kathryn Greene-McCreight has skillfully woven theological reflections on mental illness with the account of her own struggle with bipolar disorder. The result is a seamless consideration of everything from diagnosis and medication to vivid recollections of how it feels to be the body that houses a manic brain.
McCreight faced very real challenges during her years of intense struggle. Chapter 12 (How Clergy, Friends and Family Can Help) and the conclusion with the author’s seven lessons learned from her affliction could be stand-alones for anyone struggling with mental illness or endeavoring to be of help to someone else.
The harvest of wisdom presented in DIMOC might best be summarized using some of the Scripture references that served as hand-holds on her climb toward healing:
Isaiah 45:15 — During a depression, when God seemed distant (or non-existent), the author followed Isaiah’s lead in addressing God directly, “even in God’s apparent absence.” Raw examples of her prayers during deep depression reveal her struggle. Her use of biblical and historical prayers, such as this by Samuel Johnson, gave words to her longing for stability and productivity:
Grant, I beg you, merciful Lord, that the designs of a new and better life, which by your grace I have now formed, may not pass away without effect. Incite and enable me, by your Holy Spirit, to improve the time which you shall grant me; to avoid all evil thoughts, words, and actions . . .
Isaiah 42:3 — Feeling like a “bruised reed” and a “dimly burning wick”, Greene-McCreight found that worship was indispensable. “Borrow from the faith of your brothers and sisters in Christ,” is her advice. She begged God for strength not to commit suicide, for the sake of her husband and children, and for the sake of her ministry: “I cannot allow myself so to undermine my very life’s work.”
I Peter 5:8-9a — Swinging between mania and depression, the author continually felt the need to “keep alert,” but references to “the devil” or anything pertaining to her Christian faith occasionally caused tension with her care-givers. In her book, she shares wisdom gained in navigating the path of mental illness with both Christian and unbelieving professionals.
Psalm 71:3 — Fighting the stigma of hospitalization, Greene-McCreight eventually realized that even this was God’s provision for her safety. He was her “strong rock,” and she clung to Him in the structure of the Book of Common Prayer; in the initially unthinkable provision of electroconvulsive therapy; and in the simple grace of molding a clay vase that turned out well.
II Corinthians 12:7 — The “sufficient” grace of God gave the author vision to meet mental illness as a test, to be “met like all other tests: with prayer that God will see us through it faithfully.” Hymns were spot lights on the grace of God, often just a phrase such as, “the soul that to Jesus has fled for repose / I will not, I will not desert to its foes . . .”
When she referred to the overwhelming assortment of medications prescribed to control the symptoms of bipolar disorder, the author compared them to Saul’s armor, weighing David down, and ultimately cast off. She longed to do the same, but persevered. Another verse comes to mind as confirmation that Kathryn Greene-McCreight has earned the right to speak into the emotionally charged issue of mental illness and Christian faith:
“One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.” I Kings 20.11
Greene-McCreight has worn the armor, she has fought the fight, and at the book’s conclusion was still in the battle. Thus follows her exhortation, that in all our afflictions, physical, mental, and otherwise, we look to the encouraging truth of Revelation 7:16-17:
They will hunger no more and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and He will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Christ, the Lamb, enters our affliction and becomes the Companion in all our darkness.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.