Desolation, Robin Williams and St. Ignatius
Desolation is the feeling that nothing matters, nothing can ever be set right again. God has no redemptive power and the world is meaningless. Desolation is the great abyss and Ignatius knew that we will all face it.
Sometimes desolation is so severe that it takes over our minds to the point that we cannot push it away. We need others during these times to remind us of the light, to remind us of our consolations. Ignatius reminds us that during our consoling moments we should really relish them, to prepare ourselves for desolation.
As one Jesuit, quipped, “He must have been a joy to live in community with!”
But Ignatius wasn’t being a killjoy. He’s on the mark when he claims that consolation is the only thing that helps us avoid desolation. God points and pushes us towards our consolations, those times we were really feeling alive and charged with the power of God’s creative energy in our lives.
Robin Williams somehow lost sight of that consolation–be it because of biological chemical imbalances, addictions or simply hopelessness that springs from any variety of factors, consolation eluded him and led him into the darkness of despair.
We know that when it comes to suicide, that people aren’t in control of their actions. The finality of suicide is not realized by the one in too much pain to see clearly. God now redeems the suffering that they could not face, could not get past. Cradling the hurt one in His arms God entrusts mercy and redemption to those most in need.
I think it’s a bit like this:
I wish that Robin Williams, who often made me laugh, cry and resonate with his characters deeply could have been embraced by another in the same way he did here in this movie.
The older I get, the more I realize that evil does exist in the world and it longs to keep consolation at bay. To make the problems we face irredeemable and everything ultimately “our fault.” Ignatius knew that evil’s power was enough to drive any one of us to suicide, if we but allow that call to embed in our consciousness too deeply.
It’s tough for individuals who suffer from mental illness to sometimes rely solely on self-care. Especially, when medication is something they need and they cannot bring themselves to find chemical therapy palatable. Some enjoy mania so much that they refuse meds. Others wallow in depression so deeply, that they don’t believe meds can help, because in their mind nothing can cure them. This is evil’s big hand and the deck is stacked and it becomes up to communities to care immensely for those most in harm’s way. We, as community, need to take on suicide like a prize fighter behind on the cards with only a round or two left. We need to come out swinging.
And we need to point people towards consolation. As a spiritual director, it is all too easy for people to throw all their consolations away when they head towards desolation. And that’s just “headed” towards desolation. When one is actually in desolation, those consolations are not just thrown away, they become illusions, just a ruse, not even consoling anymore. My job is awaken people to their own truth of being in union with God in the precious times of their life and to remind them that a loving God is not far off and if we but look for God, even in the rough times, desolation is sure to subside and consolation will allow us to lift the sun back up into the air for a final day of summer–or perhaps the truth is that even in the rain, one can find something beautiful.
We need to help others discover consolation and desolation and the circuitous path we find on the way towards these extremes. Most of the time, I don’t lean one way or the other, rather I find myself not in complete consolation, but also not close to desolation even though I hear it’s call. Like when I do something great at work I can feel good about my achievement, but then I can hear the negative “Well, it wasn’t all that good.” Get behind me, Satan! I will not let you talk me out of owning my achievement. I will look self-critically, smoothing rough edges at times, and I know mistakes will be made, but that doesn’t mean that my mistakes and flaws own me and capture me in desolation’s grip. For those with chemical imbalances that work hard to find a good balance of meds along with talk therapy, you will simply need help in finding this balance. A good therapist, group therapy or support groups are essential, not optional. Those fighting addictions need 12 step programs, detox and rehab. One day at a time is still another day sober and we cannot rush into years of sobriety–it takes work. For those of us who drift into milder depressions from time to time, a good therapist or even a spiritual director can help us find our way back to the border line.
The truth is that we probably all need a little help (a lot?). And we need to take it. For some, all the help in the world is not enough. Evil has used desolation to keep them hopeless. Our prayers tonight are for people who have given up trying to find help, that they may find it and be healthy again, embraced by God’s love.
If you are someone who a feeling depressed or anxious, please know there is help. If you’re on campus the counseling center, campus ministry and a host of others are there to help or call Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-8255.