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The Journey: the UCC Mental Health Network Blog

Welcome to the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (UCC MHN) blog, The Journey. Our weekly posts will explore mental health and addiction through the lens of our Christian faith. We will write about how our personal experiences affect our lives and how our spirituality supports our journey. Everyone who is living with a mental health or addiction disorder, or has a loved one who is affected by a mental health challenge or addiction, is on a journey. Together we can connect with each other and share some ways to travel the path of hope and wholeness.

Be Still and Know That I Am God by Karl Shallowhorn

written by Karl Shallowhorn

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it. One of the consistent themes of this experience is the collective uncertainty of what we are going through. In all honesty, none of us really knows what the future will bring (not that we did before the pandemic, either, but that’s not the point). 

But there’s more at stake here. People are dealing with the loss, or potential loss, of jobs, relationships and even of loved ones who have succumbed to the Coronavirus disease. All of these circumstances can engender a profound sense of fear. 

Fear is a natural human emotion. It can produce what is known as the “fight or flight” response. When we are in this state of mind, one’s body produces cortisol, a naturally occurring hormone that regulates our metabolism as well as the body’s immune response. However, when a person has too much cortisol in their system, stress can result. This stress can produce anxiety. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like feeling anxious. And while I am not typically prone to anxiety, it doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments. One thing that I’ve learned is that the practice of meditation has greatly helped me to manage the anxiety I have had during this period. Meditation doesn’t have to be done for hours on end., Even 5-10 minutes can produce beneficial results. 

I’ve been meditating daily for quite a while. I’ve found this practice to be especially useful in many ways. First, being someone, whose mind is always going, the ability to sit quietly and focus on my mantra (a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.) greatly improves my mental clarity. 

Mediating also helps my sleep. I have a routine of meditating before I go to go to bed at night. This helps me to settle down and make the shift from what is usually a busy day to a time when I’m planning to rest. It’s also a way to give my body a signal that it’s time to let go of the day’s worries. 

Finally, meditation helps me with my connection to the Divine. When I take those precious moments to be still, I feel the presence of God stirring inside of me. And while it’s hard to describe in words, I can say that I do receive a sense of assurance that everything is going to be okay. And that, more than anything else, is what I believe we all need to feel now. 

If you are feeling a sense of anxiety, I’d suggest incorporating meditation into your daily routine. You may find it as a means to help you to both cope with your fears and develop a deeper connection with your Higher Power. Being still can do wonders for the body, mind and spirit.
Karl Shallowhorn is the Education Program Coordinator at the Community Health Center of Buffalo. Karl is a New York State Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor and also serves on the Board of Directors for the UCC Mental Health Network, the Mental Health Association in New York State, and the Mental Health Association of Erie County. He is also a contributing writer and blogger for BP magazine as well as for The Mighty. Karl is a 30-plus year member of Pilgrim-St. Luke’s-El Nuevo Camino UCC in Buffalo, NY.

Christ Above the Powers by David Finnegan-Hosey

written by David Finnegan-Hosey

“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” -- Ephesians 1:20-23

Many congregations observe this coming Sunday as Ascension Sunday, recalling those stories in scripture in which Jesus, having spent time with his closest friends and followers after his resurrection, disappears from their earthly view. In the letter to the Ephesians, this Ascension is interpreted as God’s elevation of Christ above the powers – the language which biblical authors use to grapple with the reality of unhealthy systems, and with the way that God’s grace made manifest in Jesus Christ challenges, upends, and ultimately heals these systems. Christ, who according to Ephesians has in some mysterious sense already transformed the harmful systems of this world, communicates grace to a world in need of it. To speak of grace is also to witness to these systems with the faith that they are already subject to transformation. For the author of Ephesians, the gospel of grace – “By grace, you have been saved!” – emerges from this context of Christ’s triumph over the powers and systems of this world. 

What does this have to do with mental health? When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011, I quickly realized how much of my life would be taken up, not only by learning to manage my symptoms, but by trying to navigate the ins and outs of the U.S. mental healthcare system and the spiderweb of systems surrounding it, from health insurance to medical debt collections to inequitable legislation and more. As I began sharing my story and facilitating spaces within faith communities for honest discussion of mental health challenges, I quickly learned how important it was to also address those systems that prevent so many people from accessing care – and thus, prevent so many people from speaking up about their challenges to begin with. The vulnerability needed for authentic storytelling is hard to muster up when the powers seem to be on the prowl, waiting to strike. 

Mental health advocacy might begin with our own stories, but ultimately it means the joining of those stories into a larger conversation, one with the courage (and, at times, the volume!) to challenge unjust systems and inequitable institutions.

As followers of the same Christ who is raised above the powers, we are called exactly to Christ’s work of challenging those powers, and thus, offering true healing. To paraphrase the language of Ephesians 2, we are saved by pre-existing grace, from unhealthy systems, for the work of the common good. Perhaps this Ascension Sunday is an opportunity for our congregations to proclaim this good news: Christ is raised above the powers; and frees us for the work of calling those powers to account. 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” – Ephesians 2:8-10

David Finnegan-Hosey is the author of Christ on the Psych Ward and Grace is a Pre-Existing Condition: Faith, Systems, and Mental Healthcare. He serves as College Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministries at Barton College. He holds an M.Div from Wesley Theological Seminary and a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education from the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. He is certified by Mental Health First Aid USA to provide initial help to people experiencing depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance use disorders. In 2011, David was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a series of psychiatric hospitalizations. He now speaks and writes about the intersections among mental illness, mental health, and faith. David lives in Wilson, NC with his wife Leigh and their dog Penny Lane.