Darkness Is My Only Companion is the lament of the biblical psalmist, the lived experience of theologian and writer Kathryn Greene-McCreight, and an apt title for a book describing her life journey with a mental disorder.
The book is a Christian response to mental illness, how to make sense of one’s pain before God.
Greene-McCreight is well versed in biblical scholarship, with a doctorate in theology from Yale and continued academic career as assistant priest and college instructor in New Haven, Conn. She was able over time to make sense of her bipolar illness, beginning with addressing and treatment of traumatic childhood events, and eventually seeing the hospital as a place of healing, where Christ entered and pushed back the darkness.
As a Christian and theologian of the church, she questions how she could put her faith in God when she felt entirely abandoned by that God. What was God doing to her, and why? How is the soul affected by a disease of the mind? Does God send this suffering? These are theological questions, and ones she struggled with partly for her own benefit and partly for the broader Christian community.
She also describes an antithesis to the darkness; an offering from God to a pathway of light and insight embraced with hope and community. Darkness is not her only companion, she comes to realize, when she absorbs the truth of the hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” Such a friend doesn’t forsake us.
Her book offers sage practical advice for family, friends, and clergy whose lives have intersected with those who experience illness. How does one relate winsomely with someone suffering a mental illness? Part of the tragedy of stigma, the author states, is that people don’t understand that the mentally ill can be quite normal in many ways.
For those seeking help from a therapist—Christian or not—she has words of encouragement and hope. “Your life is protected and nurtured in God in spite of yourself and not dependent on ‘how you feel.’” She’s very confident God can be at work when the Christian community is there to support people who are ill in their spiritual needs. She discusses the value of prayer for the health of those enduring mental illness and how even the uttered words of hymns and liturgies were prayers for her when she couldn’t pray her own.
Kathryn Green-McCreight writes of her own experience, interpreted theologically, with the hope and prayer that it may be her way of offering her own pain to Christ, that it may be redeemed as it touches the lives of others. Indeed it has been. There are many good and helpful books on mental illness but few address the spiritual vacuum within mental health care. This one does it well, and without ignoring medical science. (Brazos)