We Lepers.

I have an anxiety disorder.  I didn’t used to tell anybody about that…not even the kids.  For over thirty years, I kept that fact from my counselees, readers, and audiences.  During each and every one of those years, I would find myself frequently telling clients that feeling ashamed of depression or anxiety is like viewing influenza or Chron’s Disease as a sign of weakness, or moral deficiency.  In other words, “A mood disorder is nothing to be ashamed of!”  

“Ironic,” doesn’t begin to describe the gap between my professional conviction and my silence in this matter.  It took a global pandemic, to pry me out of my closet.  I finally began to admit that, just like one-out-of-every-three world inhabitants, I too suffer from a diagnosable mood disorder!  Looking back, it would seem that I am also not immune from another common ailment that frequently afflicts those who carry a “y” chromosome.  I’m not sure of the ICDM code for it, but I believe the technical diagnosis is rendered, “intra-rectal-cranialitis.”  For me, the principal symptom of this common disorder was the delusion that somehow admission of my challenge would diminish my professional credibility.

I was like a reverse Father Damien.  History records that he gradually adopted the phrase, “We lepers,” when preaching to his huge congregation of the deformed and dying on the Island of Molokai.  Imagine the power in that first sermon, when the formerly healthy missionary admitted that he was fully one of them.  Unlike the leprosy of his day, there are many treatments for mood disorders, most (but not all) are non-medical.  Now that I’ve broken my silence, I have found that the strategic deployment of my ongoing challenge, lends a kind of power and humble authority to my interventions.  At a fundamental level it communicates, “You’re not alone,” “I’m with you,” and “There’s hope!”

This Sunday, many Christian churches, including my own, will hear a selection from Mark’s Gospel (1:40-45).   In it, Jesus shared a profound experience with a man suffering with leprosy.  Together, they defied the scriptural prohibition against makingcontact with one another (Lv 13: 1-2, 44-46).  In Mark’s telling, Jesus appeared to be touched by this man’s wholeheartedness (“If you want to, you can heal me.”).   This caused Jesus to do what people normally do in a circumstance when somebody takes down their fearful defenses and reaches out with authenticity.  He reached back.  And just like usual, when that happens, something healing occurs.

Day-in-and-day-out we tend to live as though we are most connected in our strengths.  Everyone knows to answer the job interview question about weaknesses with a non-weakness: “I tend to work too hard!”   But if you search your experience, I think you’ll find that a different story emerges.  It happens in expected and unexpected places as well.  I’ve seen it in my counseling office, on retreats,  in friendships, in hospital rooms, and smack in the middle of a shared challenge. You’ve seen it too.  There is a timeless truth that the courageous among us know:  vulnerability is the heart of deep connection.  It is the doorway to intimacy with self, others and God.  

Here at the outset of another season of springtime renewal, I’d like to offer two different ways to reflect back on your sacred experiences of courageous vulnerability giving way to deep connection.

Sacred Free-Association

Time Needed:  ten minutes to a half an hour.  

Place:  a distraction free-zone with no screens except the movie screen of your imagination

Posture:   seated, spine straight, feet flat on floor, hands in lap, eyes de-focused or shut.  

Directions:  Stop…Drop…Savor

Consistent with your own spirituality, take the time to open yourself to Grace and Creativity  (EG. intentional breathing, a little Centering Prayer, or savoring of a musical piece or poem). Next, allow some sacred moments of shared vulnerability from your life to percolate up and into your imagination (EG. Significant conversations, retreat experiences, touching moments within your family, etc…).  Try not to control the flow of the content, and don’t rush yourself.  As each episode arises, step back into those moments seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling them again.    

Once you’ve concluded this exercise, either in a journal, or with a friend or discussion group, answer the following questions:

What are one or two things that stood out for you in this exercise?

Were you surprised by anything?

What were you aware of in this experience?

Is there anything in your current life that this experience calls you to?

Discussion Questions not Utilizing the Above Meditation

Share the story of a time you opened up with someone and you ended up being glad you did.  What stood out from this experience for you?

Think of a time when someone courageously opened up with you.  Savor what came of that for them and for you.

Not everyone, not every context is worthy of the gift of your vulnerability.  Was there ever a time when you regretted opening up to someone?  What are the characteristics necessary for you to shed your armor and to be glad you did it?

Do you recall a spiritual experience where you felt loved in the very place you felt most unlovable?

Do you think you are someone who invites warm sharing from others?  

One Reply to “We Lepers.”

  1. Hi Tom,
    I came, I read, I am amused. This is the type of blog I was expecting. I like reading it knowing you the way that I do. This way I can hear your voice as I read the text. I especially like the wit and sarcasim you relay, for instance “intra-rectal-cranialitis” to which most Y chromosome types could relate (or at least acknowledge and deny).
    It is also helpful and hopeful for you to display a meditation practice that your readers may enjoy. I do have my own practice which I cling sacredly to and ignore with equal diligence.

    Thank you for inviting me. I am in class now but will comment more in the future.

    Suzanne Michaelree

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