After all the liturgical hijinks of Easter it is little wonder that today is called Low Sunday. Not all of us can remain forever on that peak of celebration.
In truth, feeling ‘low’ is an understatement for more and more people. Stress, depression and mental torment are significant and life-shaping for many. Experts think this may be accounted for by a greater willingness to speak of mental ill-health, by the world feeling more bewildering and tense, and by the far-reaching effects of this decade’s financial austerity.
Today’s Psalm feels so appropriate, for it finds the Psalmist at a pretty low ebb. She feels far from God: she yearns, she longs, she thirsts. She is so depressed that she’s unable to speak to God; the question, ‘how long will this go on?’ is asked ‘of no-one in particular and of anyone willing to listen’, as Patrick Woodhouse puts it. Somehow, though, crying out in that way seems helpful. Just acknowledging the hell she is in sparks some memories – ancient encounters with God found in the history books, anecdotes of God’s light dispelling her own previous shadowlands. Those reminiscences nudge her thoughts toward God’s loving kindness. ‘Yes’, she seems to say, ‘there was a time when God was my Rock.’ Then, the black dog re-appears. ‘Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?’ Yet the memories are enough to prompt the realisation that trusting in God might be hard but it’s her best hope.
If depression is part of life for us, or of the lives of our intimates, it may be we specially appreciate this Psalm. Could it be that it liberates us from the crippling fear that faith and depression must never dialogue with each other? Psalm 42 models for us an honest conversation, where telling it like it is – even if seemingly into thin air – begins to quench our thirsting for the living God.
Woodhouse suggests verse 9 has special power. ‘Deep speaks to deep’ intimates an enticing prospect that when we are at our lowest, we may be more open to the one who is the ground of our being. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘when I am weak then I am strong.’ Is it that when we are at our worst, we have no defences left to erect between ourselves and God, and thus can gradually come to know again God’s reliably resurrected love, so broad and long, so high and deep?
Our generation’s readiness to be real about mental health lends to Psalm 42 a new power to speak to us and for us. May that auger well for the equilibrium of society and the resilience of our faith.