In the winter nature sleeps. Darkness overtakes the light. We experience the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. Winter offers us the opportunity to practice spiritual disciplines that we often overlook or would like to avoid…silence, meditation and simplicity. In the darkness and the silence, we can open ourselves to the inward journey of solitude by cultivating time alone. This season of bare trees and stark landscapes invites simplicity and looking at what we need to let go from our lives.
During the darkest nights of the winter, many faith traditions celebrate religious holidays that focus on light. The rising of the sun on the winter solstice, out of the darkest day of the year, echoes the birth of the light from the dark void on the first day of creation. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And there was light. (Genesis 1)
We all have winter seasons in our lives when we feel alone in or personal darkness and despair. Sue Monk Kidd writes, Who has not come upon a season when the water of the soul is disturbed? And does not God meet each of us as we brave the swirling dark in search of wholeness? May it be so for you.
The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy, parties and gatherings with friends and family. But the holidays can be a stressful time even under the best of conditions. The commercialization of the holiday season bombards us with unrealistic expectations especially in a world that seems to be full of problems. The brochure, Mental Illness: Coping with the Holidays, provides helpful self care tips for persons living with a mental illness, tips for families, friends and tips for communities of faith. You can download this resource from the Mental Health Ministries website in English or Spanish.
Connie and Rex share an inspirational article published in the Winter, 2014 issue of the Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOSL) San Diego about coping with the loss of a loved one to suicide during this holiday season. Available here.
Connie and Rex also tell their story about the loss of their son, Todd, to suicide in a video produced by Mental Health Ministries, “Suicide: Healing After the Death of a Loved One.” The video is available on the Mental Health Ministries YouTube channel. Also available on the DVD, PTSD, Trauma and Suicide: Stories of Healing and Hope.
Not everyone is feeling merry this time of year. Faith communities are increasingly attentive to the needs of people who are “blue” during this holiday season. They are creating sacred space and hospitable settings to include those who face various kinds of losses, grief or depression. Such services are reflective, accepting the reality of where we are emotionally. They offer a message of hope and the assurance of God’s presence with us in the midst of our darkness.
There are a number of sites on the internet that provide worship resources suitable for use at a “Blue Christmas” or “Longest Night” worship services. One example is the Blue Christmas Worship Resource Index. There are samples of Blue Christmas and a Blue Interfaith Holiday Service in the Worship section under Resources on the Mental Health Ministries website.
As winter approaches and the days get shorter, many people suffer with a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Although SAD isn’t totally understood, it is a real illness with real symptoms that vary in frequency and intensity. Symptoms can include:
With SAD, as with all chronic mental illnesses and normal holiday stress, our faith communities can be intentional about finding ways to encourage a healthy winter holiday season that focuses on our faith, our families and our friends. A bulletin insert/flyer, What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? is available on the Mental Health Ministries Home page.
One of the things we enjoy about the holidays is sharing our favorite and traditional foods at social gatherings and at holiday meals with family and friends. With the coming of the New Year, one of the most popular resolutions is to lose weight. What a dilemma! We are bombarded with media images of the ideal body image and diet products are a huge business in this country.
While it is healthy to watch what we eat and to get enough exercise, people with eating disorders do harm to their bodies because of their obsession about their weight. Approximately ten million people in the United States have an eating disorder with more than 90 percent of those who have eating disorders are women between the ages of 12 and 25. Two families share their struggle in dealing with eating disorders on a show produced by Mental Health Ministries, Eating Disorders: Wasting Away. It is available on the MHM You Tube channel. It is also available on our DVD, Mental Illness and Families of Faith.
Tricia Brown outlines the importance of educating faith leaders and congregations about mental illness. She shares ways to provide encouragement along with ways to support family and friends. "Churches are places of refuge. Church members are spiritual families. Still, it is more difficult than it seems. There is just something very quieting about mental illness, something that condemns people to suffer alone — even though they are not alone.” Available here.
Jews Must Take Mental Illness Out of the Shadowsis written by Stephen Fried, co-author of Patrick Kennedy’s book “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.” Fried addresses the issue of the stigma surrounding mental illness that is so prevalent in our faith communities. He writes, “The silence that pervades our synagogues is a proxy for the broader reluctance of patients and family members dealing with mental illness to seek comfort in life and openness in death. The deafening sound of not talking about brain diseases pervades American life. But it is nowhere more troubling — nor more potentially and profoundly reversible — than in our houses of worship and our faith communities.” Fried addresses the issues and lifts up ways to reduce stigma and raise awareness about mental health issues in worship and congregational life. Available here.
The Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health's offers an excellent e-newsletter, Crossroads. The purpose of the newsletter is to help create a community of those interested in spirituality and health and keep the community informed. Crossroads comes out on a monthly basis and provides a wealth of information about what is happening in the field of religion, spirituality and health. Included are brief summaries of the latest published research on spirituality and health from around the world, with commentaries on the findings.
To sign up, go the Sign up for Mail List button on the lower left hand corner of the Center's Homepage and click on orange button to enter your e-mail address and contact information. To examine previous e-newsletters, go to their website.
“It’s Time: There is Hope for Mental Health” features speakers from The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church 2015. This annual conference is sponsored by Saddleback Church after the tragic loss of Pastor Rick and Kay’s youngest son. Helpful resources and information from their wide variety of conference speakers can be found on their website. You can view the video here.
Wellsprings is a helpful newsletter from Carole J. Wills, chair of the national NAMI FaithNet advisory committee. The fall newsletter included a helpful resource, Sharing the Journey, available on the Mental Health Ministries website in the Handouts/Flyers section. You can subscribe to this newsletter by emailing Carole at email@example.com
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Look for the Light
The deeper the darkness
the brighter the light shines.
For love refuses
to be extinguished by despair.
Resilience and hope cannot be quenched
while the light of love burns steadily,
fueled by courage and by compassion.
Look for the light
and there you will find love.
- Author Unknown
Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119