The first day of springtime breaks with heavy clouds as I set out along the A27 from Hastings to Crawley for a meeting of priests. I used to dislike this road intensely but I’ve become accustomed to it now and take it as it comes, take the traffic as it is, though this morning it’s not bad at all.
On the radio they’re talking about “The Terrible Sonnets” of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the 19th century English Jesuit priest and poet whom I became quite fond of when still at school. The Terrible Sonnets were written in Ireland, a place where he felt exiled and suffered from depression, a condition I have struggled with for many years, maybe even since I was a child. “I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day” he wrote. I know this feeling well.
But I smile at the thought of exile, living away from one’s homeland which for Hopkins was like oppressive captivity whereas for me I feel free. This is what I think in the silence after the radio has been turned off.
Along the way I glance at the hedgerows. The bare brown branches of winter are slowly taking on a delicate shade of green mingled with white and yellow, colours that remind me of home. And the occasional cherry blossom. The radio talks about those too and, to my dismay, I discover that they are a symbol of war and courage in Japan. Kamikaze pilots decorated their planes with a particular kind of cherry blossom.
Life and the world are full of paradox and contradictions. Even the beautiful blossoming bushes are somewhat spoiled with an abundance of shredded plastic that clings resolutely to the branches, the grass verges littered. I have to keep my mind on the emerging beauty; it’s what we need to do in life. No matter how littered our lives may be, we can keep our attention focused on the good that’s there as well.
Interestingly, some of the meeting I attended focused on depression and stress in the life of the priest. It’s not often we talk to each other about these things, much less admit what we struggle with. Men in general are not so good at admitting to something like depression. The Bishop told us how the armed forces deal with this – they put two men side by side in battle, they become companions in war and as well as being trained to fight they are trained to tell each other when they are feeling down or whatever. Saying it is half the victory.
The agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is a good refuge for those who are depressed or going through trauma. The Gospels tell us how distressed and frightened He was, so He knows what it’s like and He takes all our distress in there with Him, taking it all the way to the victory of the Cross.