JUNE 20, 2016 — We all go through spells where we feel blue, even downright dejected. I know lately I’ve been waking up in the morning and feeling a sense of dread about facing a new day. Those fears and anxieties that lie just below the surface tend to be magnified in the wee hours of the morning before the alarm goes off. A quick cup of coffee, some time in prayer with Jenny on my lap purring, and those feelings begin to dissipate. Lately however, I’ve had a harder time getting them to leave me.
One of the psalms that I pray each morning describes dejection to the point of despair:
You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.
Psalm 88, 6-9 NIV
Most days I think of those I have known who have experienced that kind of despair. I think too of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, overcome by the knowledge of the suffering he would experience. But some days, I think of me.
I pride myself with knowing why I feel the way I do—I am introspective by nature, and to a fault. But lately I am not clear as to why I feel the way I do. Perhaps it’s the cycle of days seeming to go by faster and faster. It could be those small aches and pains of age reminding me that youth is long over. Maybe I need to stop paying attention to the news because the world no longer makes sense. Maybe I need to stop being so introspective!
I prayed to God today during that psalm and I prayed again during the one o’clock hour when I lift up petitions of healing for family and friends. I rarely include myself but today I did. I asked for grace to come up out of myself, to be lifted up and out. And my prayer was answered.
I am reading an antique book printed in 1937 about an historical figure, Amos Bronson Alcott. The book is large, its pages browning, the paper soft to the touch. The spine is such that that the book stays open by itself. The cover is exquisite, vintage 1930s art in earth tones. The biographer is totally immersed in his subject, revealing to me the mind and the heart of one of recent histories’ biggest conundrums. Alcott was a man of extremes—at once brilliant, original, insightful while at the same time blind to the physical needs of his family, unable, unwilling at times to work to support them. He drew amazing creativity out of his daughters but inflicted great scars through his demands for perfection and virtue, causing one to become a workaholic to support the family while constantly striving to prove her virtue (Louisa) while another found that virtue perfectly in death rather than life (Lizzie).
With all his fatal flaws, Amos Bronson Alcott is a fascinating figure and Odell Shepherd, the biographer, writes about the man with incredible beauty and insight. Some call it “old-fashioned” but I say that Shepherd, because he wrote the book only forty-nine years after Alcott’s death, was closer to him that current biographers could ever hope to be. Perhaps the writing style is “dated;” the fact that there are no footnotes proves to be frustrating for scholars. But there is general agreement that the work is authentic. And that’s why it speaks to me.
And today during my lunch break as I read, scribbling notes in the margins, I found myself being lifted out of my dejection by the sheer beauty of the words and the tactile experience of holding that magnificent old book.
God answered my prayer. Through the experience of reading, I could be lifted out of the prison of myself, my eyes no longer dimmed with grief, my spirit no longer overcome with waves. Because I could get lost in the life of another through the exquisite writing of his biographer, I could receive a gift of grace.
We all have tools we use to help ourselves feel better when we are blue. Some like to listen to music, go for a walk, take a swim or see friends. These are all gifts of grace from God who knows our every need. In my case, rather late in life, I was given the grace to lose myself in a book and in the lives of fascinating historical figures.
Thank you Lord.
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4 thoughts on “Lifted up and out—breaking free from dejection”
Thanks for sharing your spiritual and literary experience with us, Susan.
By the way, that is really, REALLY a beautiful book cover. 🙂
Thank you! Sorry to be late in acknowledging your comment.
Hi Susan! I first came to know of you and your work through your site LouisaMayAlcottIsMyPassion. I was lead there a few months ago when doing my first round of LMA research. Then, lo and behold, there you were again at In The Bookcase for the LMA reading challenge that Tarissa invited me to.
I really relate to much of what you said here. I too sometimes struggle with “dejection,” as you put it, and I too have had to learn what works to pull me out of it. In fact I recently did a post titled Self-Soothing my way through depression. You said that later in life you discovered the grace of losing yourself in a book, this was something I discovered very early in life- and it saved my life. I often tell people this, and I have stated it multiple times on blog and will continue to do so. Books and reading saved my life. Childhood was rough, so was “finding myself” in my early twenties, and I wouldn’t be here today, happy and healthy, if it wasn’t for that *grace* that lead me to books.
Also, I loved how you described touching and holding the vintage book as a “tactile experience.” Great language!
Ivy, thank you! How lucky you are that you discovered the therapy of books so early in life. I wish I hadn’t been so late in coming to reading but I’m glad it came just the same. There’s something about reading that sorts out my thoughts and calms me down while giving me new ideas which gives me such a lift. Combine that with a cup of coffee and you have magic! 🙂 I was really into making music for so many years and while I still love it, it never offered the consolation that reading and writing do. Thank you for commenting!