The Catholic Guide to Depression: A Book Review

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It started with me wanting to do some further research on depression for a future project. A quick search throughout the internet led me to this book. Thanks to Dr. Aaron Kheriaty for sending me this book to review.

This book is one that must be read thoroughly. It’s not something you devour in one sitting or just skim through superficially. Like the disease of depression, this book takes time to read. Too many people have preconceptions of what “depression” is and fall into one of two extremes. The first one being that depression is just a chemical imbalance that can be easily solved with a few pills and maybe some therapy. The other extreme is that it’s a spiritual issue that doesn’t need medication to fix. This book finds a good medium between the two extremes.

The book is divided into two parts, with the first part focusing on understanding what depression is and isn’t and the second part focusing on how to treat depression. The book as a whole takes a Catholic perspective that goes in depth on how the body and soul affect each other, rather than seeing the body and soul as separate entities as people often think today. This book describes depression as a complicated disease and I love the effort that Kheriaty puts into describing the symptoms and affects it has on the person in detail.

One interesting thing I found from this book is that there’s a difference between depression and what people call the “Dark Night of the Soul” as named by St. John of the Cross. The “dark night of the soul” isn’t depression as it is a purgation of everything that separates a person from God and allowing a person to share in the suffering of Christ. People who go through the dark night of the soul are given consolations and appear genuinely happy to the outside world. People with depression don’t get any consolation.

Whenever I say that a book needs “depth,” I mean to say that the writing needs to go beyond the superficial, glossy illusion of goodness and show the research and wisdom behind whatever one is saying. Feel-good books like Chicken Soup for the Soul are a great read as a quick fix, but this book acknowledges the darker sides of life instead of ignoring them and that’s what elevates this book as a great guide to those suffering from depression.

The book is woven with elements of Catholic spirituality, but it also says that there’s nothing wrong with finding a therapist who will treat the disease but isn’t personally Catholic or even a person of faith, so long as said therapist allows for the patient to integrate his faith into the therapy. I also liked that while Kheriaty understands the necessity of medication and therapy, he also acknowledges that many people take their medications unnecessarily and that some therapists may be wrong for the patient. Like with doctors, it’s a matter of trial and error and in this case, psychologists are “doctors to the soul.”

I recommend this book to those who feel like they are suffering from depression as well as for those who know someone who has this disease. Young adults especially should look into this book to learn what the difference is between being emo and true depression. I think this book would also be beneficial to psychologists who aren’t of any particular faith. One thing this book emphasizes is that just because a person has faith doesn’t mean that they are prevented from suffering. In fact, for Catholics, suffering is a part of life and depression can come to the greatest of saints. But there’s always the hope that God gives, like a lamp at our feet and the light in the path that guides us out of the dark.

Encountering Jesus: A Book Review

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When Elizabeth Scalia shared Encountering Jesus (the latest read from the Patheos Book Club) with me, I was definitely interested in reading it. The book (compiled by James Stuart Bell) is a collection of people seeing Jesus or witnessing a miracle in their lives that they attribute to Jesus’s intercession.

I’ll admit that I like this book, but I don’t love it. I completely understand the idea of encountering Jesus through prayer or through a miracle that they can’t explain, but the problem is that it lacks depth. I mean, there’s a story about the compiler of the book encountering Jesus through drugs, for crying out loud! I’m sorry that I sound skeptical, but while I believe that God can work with us through whatever bad things we experience, I highly doubt that Jesus would appear during a drug-induced haze.

I also wonder how the encounter with Jesus has affected the lives of the people who contributed to this book. It’s one thing to encounter Jesus, but if you don’t let that encounter change you, then that experience was all for nothing. I will give the people who contributed to this book the benefit of the doubt.

I definitely agree that we can encounter Jesus outside of the Church. I still remember the day that I felt that I was drowning in my anxiety and how Christ pulled me out of it one rainy afternoon. But I wish I could’ve seen stories of encountering Christ within the Church. I love hearing stories of Eucharistic miracles, especially knowing that they still happen. (Pope Francis witnessed two of them! How awesome is that!?) I love the peace that I get whenever I go to Adoration. I love teaching kids about the faith and seeing Christ in them. I love what Mother Teresa said about Christ being in distressing disguise of the poor. As much as I loved reading this book, there weren’t any wonderful stories like that.

I am definitely glad that Jesus can come into the lives of anyone who asks for his presence and that he makes miracles happen even now. It’s just that compared to the myriad of ways I encounter Christ, the book feels a bit like swimming in shallow water.

Arriving at Amen: A Review With Prayer Perspectives

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Yesterday, I featured my friend and fellow Patheos Catholic blogger Leah Libresco on my Women of Christ Wednesday segment. One perk about working for this site: Free books. I read through Arriving at Amen in about a week’s worth of time. I cringed at the math metaphors used throughout. Being the Former English Major that I am, I am highly allergic to math. Yes, I did well in my high school Algebra and AP Statistics classes, but I still hate math with every fiber of my being. However, Leah balances out the math metaphors with references to musicals, dance classes, and learning languages, which definitely appealed to me. Overall, reading this book put a whole new perspective on the prayers that I grew up with. I’m gonna do a chapter-by-chapter summary, comparing my perspectives on the prayers Leah offered in this book to Leah’s own prayer journey.

Introduction

I was surprised to read that the very atheist Leah was drawn to Javert in Les Miserables given how holier-than-thou he acted. When I watched the 10th Anniversary Concert of Les Miserables, I fell in love with Eponine, who I still feel sings to my very soul. But at the time, Leah was operating on the idea that moral laws can exist without God. Given that I was very much an honor hound back in my adolescent years, I could understand why the similarly honor-hounding Leah would love a character who made duty an idol, even at the expense of his own life. Eventually, however, Leah came across one flaw in her personal philosophy: the development of a moral conscience. Using proof of contradiction, Leah realized that there was a gap between the morality that she wanted the world to have and the philosophy she had come to live and breathe by.

Petition

I’ll admit that petitionary prayers are sort of my go-to prayers. I memorized the basics of my childhood, but being the writer I am, most of my prayers are created from the top of my head. Leah saw petition prayers as “tattling” until her boyfriend at the time gave her a different perspective: that it’s hard for the antagonists of your life to be angry because it takes away from them being happy. Leah started to imagine that there was a better version of “Madison”  and chose to direct her prayer towards healing the breach, healing the anger and fear that existed between her and her antagonist.

I also loved that she prayed for fictional characters. It gives 2013 me something to smile about, given that I prayed for Lydia Bennet to be okay after Wickham wrecked her in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I also loved that she relates more to fictional characters than real people and eventually learned to pray for anyone who may be struggling with the same problems those fictional characters have.

She also learns about the blessings of intercessory prayer as a way of connecting to others and how asking for a saint’s intercession helps to remind her that she is not alone. The chapter ends with a humble admission that introduces Leah’s relationship with the Blessed Mother. Like me, Leah has dry periods, but we both pray (to put things in Jesuit terms) for the desire to have the desire. And sometimes, that’s enough.

Confession

I love the sacrament of Confession. If it were up to me, I’d go more often than just once a month. Like many people, Leah initially believed that if she talks about going to Confession with people, they would wonder “What did she do that she needs to confess?” She also initially put off confessions which ended up making things worse. She also admits that a lot of her sins, like mine, are inward ones. Confession behooves both of us to be more specific in knowing our sins.

She also points out two cognitive biases that tend to keep people away from confession: the sunk-cost fallacy and loss aversion, which basically boils down to being blind to your mistakes to avoid the short-term pain and dealing with the consequences of not getting what you used to have back. But the sin isn’t being repeated just because we acknowledge its existence. We all tend to minimalize how bad our sins can be, but in the end, we have to own up to our responsibilities no matter how much they hurt. I also love how Leah describes the beauty of the brokenness that comes from going to Confession and the nature of the church as a whole. And in the end, Confession helps us unite ourselves to Christ.

Examen

Note to self: Find Timothy Gallagher’s The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives Today. I used to do the examen in this order: I would think about the day, then write about what went wrong, what I could improve on, and end with gratitude. I have recently switched things to the order that Leah puts in this book. She also talks about discerning and imitating virtues in the examen and seeing how she can better serve others. I hope to apply these perspectives in my own examen journal.

Rosary

I learned how to pray the Rosary as early as second grade. My teacher was a nun and I remember a few things. Mostly: Don’t play Cat’s Cradle or Chinese Jump Rope with it and don’t wear the Rosary as a necklace. I stopped praying the Rosary sometime during my desert period and relearned it in college. I gained a real appreciation for the Rosary in my college days and I love Leah’s perspectives in this chapter. Like me, she tended to hold grudges and imagined the antagonists in her life to be outright villains. But praying the Hail Mary helped her learn how to be more charitable. She uses ballroom dancing as the metaphor for improving on how she prayed the Rosary, which I loved.

She starts with the Sorrowful mysteries, in which she places herself in an outsider perspective. In the Joyful Mysteries, Leah places herself as someone playing a supporting role, such as Elizabeth or Joseph. She notices in these mysteries that God’s grace expands as the mysteries progress. Leah found it hard to meditate on the Glorious Mysteries  at first, so she imagined the places and the direction that the mysteries took place in, eventually leading her to follow Mary to Heaven. With the Luminous Mysteries, Leah meditates on how Jesus establishes the sacraments, transfiguring and elevating the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Divine Office

In spite of my Cradle Catholic upbringing, I only learned about the Liturgy of the Hours in recent years. My online friends and I used to do video conferences and pray the Compline together. This later prepared me for when I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours during vocations retreats and come and see events. I still love this particular part of the Compline: Save us, Lord, while we are awake; protect us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace. 

The Liturgy of the Hours gave Leah some structure to her day, even on days when she wasn’t commuting. She compares this kind of structure to computer code. Then, she goes into how the cyclic nature of the psalms connects her to her future self in a Timey Wimey Ball kind of way. She also learns that not all the psalms will relate to what she’s going through at the moment, but they do apply to someone, behooving her to pray for that person in a very emphatic way.

Lectio Divina

Like the Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina is relatively new to my life. I’m still trying to figure out how to do it properly and make it part of my daily prayer. This chapter gives me some help on it. My reading style is similar to Leah’s: I either devour books or analyze them as if for a research paper. I still have the perspective that the Bible has lots of advice if I could find the right quote, but that’s not always the case. Leah compares Lectio Divina to learning a new language, which for her meant immersing herself in this form of prayer.

BTW: I squeed at the Buffy shout-out towards the end of the chapter. She basically explains why I love Buffy so much when comparing it to Cabin in the Woods, which I have yet to see. (Look for a review this October.)

Mass

I’ve been going to Mass for as long as I can remember. In Catholic school, I learned about the prayers said during the Mass, but never once did I consider the Mass as a whole to be a prayer until very recently. Leah originally observed Mass as if she was doing a nature documentary. Leah continues her language metaphor in this chapter as she immersed herself into the Mass. I love her perspectives on the liturgical calendar and how she notices the change in vestments more than I did as a kid. She also uses some math metaphor to explain transubstantiation and how Mass brings Heaven and Earth into alignment. I can’t do that explanation justice, sad to say.

The book ends with Leah comparing herself to Peter, who constantly messed up in spite of his good intentions. I was surprised that Leah didn’t list Peter as one of her go-to saints, since she says in her conclusion that she adopted him as the unofficial patron saint of her prayer life. Throughout my college days, I described Peter as thus: “Open mouth, insert foot.” And yet, in this outro, I understand what motivates Peter: a love for Christ that goes beyond what he can comprehend. Peter wants an all-or-nothing relationship with Christ, which often leads him to say stuff or do things he will regret later on. Peter may be thick-headed (why do you think Jesus changed his name from Simon, which meant “listener”?), but his heart is always with Christ.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book to newcomers to the Church and cradle Catholics alike. We can all use new perspectives on prayer. But to my fellow English majors and people with math allergies: proceed with caution. You’ll have to deal with the math metaphors in order to find the beauty of Leah’s perspectives. It’s worth it.

Chasity Is For Lovers: A Review

First of all, I think a really good alternative title for this book could be: You Say “Virgin” Like It’s a Bad Thing. I’ve read books about finding love and the standards one should have when it comes to relationships, but the best thing about Arleen Spenceley’s Chastity is For Lovers is that it provides a lot of perspective on being single.

I love that she saw her dating history as a series of learning experiences. Yes, she cried and racked her brain trying to figure out what went wrong, but she eventually learned from her relationships and in my opinion, she has a wonderful, healthy, honest perspective of them. The entire chapter about dating is worth the price of the book alone because it reveals the actual purpose of dating. Dating isn’t about having fun or riding on the emotional highs of attraction, but about finding a spouse and gain learning experiences. And I mean learning experience, not sexual experience. She emphasizes the importance of having boundaries and standards, but never in a way that shames the reader.

Next to the dating chapter, the chapter that deals with the concept of purity has got to be my favorite. I still have bad memories of seeing rants and raves on Tumblr about the concept of purity, smashing of patriarchies, slut-shaming…you know, the usual Tumblr stuff. I want to share this book with those people in particular because purity is a very, very sad misconception. I might start calling the ring I wear on my left ring finger a chastity ring as opposed to a purity ring now.

Overall, I highly recommend this book for people who want a different perspective about relationships. I also recommend this book for people who have misconceptions on purity and abstinence because chastity is very, very different. Bust most of all, I recommend this book for us single ladies. Whether we are single by choice or by circumstances or because we’re all socially awkward, we need to at least appreciate that being single is a blessing and this book will show you why.