Once a quarter, the Sunday service at Open Table (United Church of Christ) features the story of one of our members or participants. On "fifth Sundays" a volunteer shares with us a story from her or his faith journey. We cultivate storytelling as a spiritual practice because we are storytelling creatures. Telling our stories is a way of doing the inner work of reflecting spiritually and the outer work of connecting to others. We help hear one another into awareness of God's work in our own lives, and we listen in these sacred moments to ways we can join in God's work in the world. These stories always seem to include experiences of pain or challenge as well as increased compassion and hope.
But these stories are often difficult to tell and meant for our community alone, stories shared among a people where trust has been established.
Last night we were honored that one of our own shared with us the story of her struggle with mental illness. We heard of the terrors experienced from delusional thinking and visual hallucinations. We learned of a ten-year struggle to find the right medications and overcome the burdensome stigma of mental illness, of one caring doctor who "never gave up" in those ten long years, and of a faithful life partner, too. And we received important facts about the prevalence of mental illness that cuts across all demographic categories.
Thankfully, our society at last is being more enlightened about mental illnesses and disorders and less skittish about discussing and disclosing them. We are hopeful that medical research is coming ever closer to understanding and addressing, for instance, the skyrocketing number of children being diagnosed with autism, and of elders dealing with Alzheimer's. We pray for for treatments to help teens and adults experiencing eating disorders and drug addictions and postpartum depression and bi-polar disorder and alcoholism.
The Justice and Witness Ministry of the UCC advocates for mental health. Our denomination has declared: “Good health is part of God's intention for all people. Health involves the whole person, body, mind, and spirit. Health is a concern of the whole community and healing and health care are valid ways of proclaiming the gospel and ministering in the name of Jesus Christ.”
In lieu of a sermon, I share today the link to an article by a neuropsychologist that offers all of us a practical perspective on ways to minimize harm that can come to our minds and bodies. I've preached before on themes related to facing into our pain rather than remaining in denial. This article does not contradict that point but balances it helpfully, I believe. It came to me through the wonderful Charter for Compassion, which I follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CharterforCompassion .
Here is the article by Dr. Rick Hanson:
Just One Thing: Minimize Painful Experiences