see what God sees

What happens really in the soul’s union with God in terms of liberation and healing? It is an exercise in seeing how God sees, the perception of what is little and unimportant; it is listening to the cry of God’s children who are in slavery in Egypt. God calls upon the soul to give away its own ears and eyes and to let itself be given those of God. Only they who hear with other ears can speak with the mouth of God. God sees what elsewhere is rendered invisible and is of no relevance. Who other than God sees the poor and hears their cry? To use “God’s senses” does not mean simply turning inward but becoming free for a different way of living life: See what God sees! Hear what God hears! Laugh where God laughs! Cry where God cries!

– Dorothee Soelle, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance (2001)

listening to the signals

[Johann Hari continues with what he would tell his teenage self who was being led to believe an overly confident story about chemicals:]

You aren’t a machine with broken parts. You are an animal whose needs are not being met. You need to have a community. You need to have meaningful values, not the junk values you’ve been pumped full of all your life, telling you happiness comes through money and buying objects. You need to have meaningful work. You need the natural world. You need to feel you are respected. You need a secure future. You need connections to all these things. You need to release any shame you might feel for having been mistreated. Every human being has these needs, and in our culture, we’re relatively good at meeting physical needs—almost nobody actually starves, for example, which is an extraordinary achievement. But we’ve become quite bad at meeting these psychological needs. That’s a crucial reason why you—and so many of the people around you—are depressed and anxious. You are not suffering from a chemical imbalance in your brain. You are suffering from a social and spiritual imbalance in how we live. Much more than you’ve been told up to now, it’s not serotonin; it’s society. It’s not your brain; it’s your pain. Your biology can make your distress worse, for sure. But it’s not the cause. It’s not the driver. It’s not the place to look for the main explanation, or the main solution. Because you have been given the wrong explanation for why your depression and anxiety are happening, you are seeking the wrong solution….

No, I would say to my younger self—your distress is not a malfunction. It is a signal—a necessary signal. I know this is going to be hard to hear, I’d tell him, because I know how deep your suffering cuts. But this pain isn’t your enemy, however much it hurts (and Jesus, I know how much it hurts). It’s your ally—leading you away from a wasted life and pointing the way toward a more fulfilling one. Then I would tell him—you are at a fork in the road now. You can try to muffle the signal. That will lead you to many wasted years when the pain will persist. Or you can listen to the signal and let it guide you—away from the things that are hurting and draining you, and toward the things that will meet your true needs.

– Johann Hari, Lost Connections

social power and depression

[on the role of justice in the experience of depression]:

The United Nations—in its official statement for World Health Day in 2017—explained that “the dominant biomedical narrative of depression” is based on “biased and selective use of research outcomes” that “cause more harm than good, undermine the right to health, and must be abandoned.” There is a “growing evidence base,” they state, that there are deeper causes of depression, so while there is some role for medications, we need to stop using them “to address issues which are closely related to social problems.” We need to move from “focusing on ‘chemical imbalances’ to focusing on ‘power imbalances.’”

– Johann Hari, Lost Connections

the litmus test

.…[H]ere the religious traditions were in unanimous agreement. The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology. Compassion was the litmus test for the prophets of Israel, for the rabbis of the Talmud, for Jesus, for Paul, and for Muhammed, not to mention Confucius, Lao-tzu, the Buddha, or the sages of the Upanishads. In killing Muslims and Jews in the name of God, the Crusaders had simply projected their own fear and loathing onto a deity which they had created in their own image and likeness, thereby giving this hatred a seal of divine approval. A personalized God can easily lead to this type of idolatry, which is why the more thoughtful Jews, Christians, and Muslims insisted that while you could begin by thinking of God as a person, God transcended personality as “he” went beyond all other human categories.

  • Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase

an alternative story

[Gareth Higgins and Brian McLaren have written a children’s story and companion book of essays on the need for a new story. This is quoted at the outset]:

Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society. Rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story … one so inclusive that it gathers
all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into the future so that we can take the next step…. If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story.

-Ivan Illich, as quoted in the introduction to The Seventh Story: Us, Them and the End of Violence.