Mental illness and ministry

Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, suffers from bi-polar disorder. The author of Darkness Is my Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness, spoke with about mental health and the church.

HH: That seems to tie in to the theological idea you talk about in your book — the Dark Night of the Soul. Could tell us a little bit about that?

KGM: In the middle ages, The Dark Night of the Soul was specific malady – a real spiritual battle. The difference between this and depression is that in the Dark Night you want to please God, you want to do God’s work, but just feel that you can’t. Probably true that none of us can – certainly not without God’s grace.

I questioned if I really had the Dark Night of the Soul or if I was just having a very dark time. If it was spiritual, why are you going to see a doctor for it? Why are you taking medicine for it? Why are you having shock therapy for it? Why such a biological model, a scientific model, if you believe it’s spiritual?

I believe that God works in all sorts of ways in our lives. I thought in terms of God’s grace being available to me in a pill, in a psychiatrist, in a therapist and in the hospital when I needed it. Even though I did understand it to be the Dark Night of the Soul, I saw all of these remedies as being part of God’s grace.

HH: How did your experience while you were ill affect your role as a priest?

KGM: While I was ill, I was not able to support people emotionally. I was able to go through liturgies. I was even able to preach, but I think that was the power of the Holy Sprit because it was very hard to do anything with my brain. It was very hard to think. As a priest, it made me very aware of other people’s difficulties in life, particularly mental illnesses. It made me very empathetic and a much better priest.

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