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Hitting rock bottom

  • 29 November 2023
Sometimes the darkness of the world, not to mention of our personal lives, can overwhelm us. When we hear of children killed unrepentantly, for example, human rights routinely denied, the cooking of the world locked in, and nations entrusting power to wilful children. 

How do you deal with such a dark vision? After the ABC’s of self-care have failed us, we may have tried the D’s - denial, despair, disengagement, drink, or determined getting on with it. (The last, though commonly written off, is often surprisingly effective). Some of these approaches involve shutting our eyes, some going around the abyss, some sinking into it, and others marching through it.

Another path is discernment. It encourages us to stay with the pain of those suffering unjustly and with the recognition of all our own evasions and illusions until we hit the bottom, and there, perhaps find possibility.  It is summed up in a line from a play by Samuel Beckett, the master navigator of despair: ‘I’m still alive. That may come in useful’. Once we have opened ourselves to bear the weight of the world and have recognised our own posturing and insignificance, we are open to wry laughter and to look for angles. 

That kind of discernment, of course, has roots in Christian faith. It takes us through the tragedy of Jesus’ execution that cancelled all hopes invested in him, invites us into the divine comedy of his Resurrection, and offers a path to follow of compassion for Beckett’s vagrants.                             

For Beckett, Christian faith was a step too far. His gift was to explore faith’s lack. But his compassionate entry into the depths of human darkness in search of a glimmer of light offers a way for all of us to consider.  What do you think? 




Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services. Main image: Melancholy, Edvard Munch, National Museum, Norway