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Three authors offer insights on links between faith, mental illness
September 30th, 2009
By Sister Mona Castelazo, CSJ

“WRESTLING WITH OUR INNER ANGELS: FAITH, MENTAL ILLNESS AND THE JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS” by Nancy Kehoe. Jossey-Bass (San Francisco, 2009) 148 pp. $19.95.

“JESUS WEPT: WHEN FAITH & DEPRESSION MEET” by Barbara C. Crafton. Jossey-Bass (San Francisco, 2009) 164 pp. $19.95.

“A SPIRITUALITY FOR BROKENNESS: DISCOVERING YOUR DEEPEST SELF IN DIFFICULT TIMES” by Terry Taylor. SkyLight Paths (Woodstock, Vt., 2009) 176 pp. $16.99.

“Wrestling With Our Inner Angels” by Nancy Kehoe, “Jesus Wept” by Barbara Crafton and “A Spirituality for Brokenness” by Terry Taylor deal with spiritual and psychological disturbances. Each author offers insights into the connection between faith and mental illness.

Sister Nancy Kehoe, author of “Wrestling With Our Inner Angels,” is a Society of the Sacred Heart sister and clinical instructor of psychology who realized that the health care system has ignored the religious life of patients. She conducts groups of depressed, suicidal patients in exploring spirituality in relation to their illness.

Struggling with dual challenges of mental illness and guilt, patients felt they were inherently evil and were therefore unable to relate to others, to appreciate beauty, to use “well-chosen words or images,” or to experience hope. Sister Kehoe shares her personal experiences and those of her patients to show how healing requires both psychological and spiritual ministry. By listening to each other, patients connect and help one another.

Sister Kehoe believes that all therapists should be open to the idea that each patient “has a sense of an internal life-giving voice, even in the midst of chaotic, hallucinatory experience.” Destructive family and/or religious experiences may lead to mental illness, but discernment, trust and creativity can lead to healing.

The Rev. Barbara Crafton, author of “Jesus Wept,” is an Episcopal priest who shares her own experience of depression, as well as those of her parishioners. She says of herself, “At first I didn’t know I was depressed. I thought I was religious.”

The book provides a clear profile of depression, suggests a path toward healing, and shows the role faith plays in the process. Symptoms of depression include exhaustion, joylessness, fear, guilt, numbness and unworthiness.

The author personally experienced being tired and overworked in addition to having “a doomed desire to please everyone.” Causes of depression may be chemical imbalance, conflict or trauma. The Rev. Crafton found that true depression cannot be healed by prayer or willpower alone. Help must be sought through proper medication or counseling, or both.

The Rev. Crafton points out the irony of a Christian’s equating the presence of pain with an absence of faith. Readers will find helpful distinctions concerning normal sorrow, abnormal depression and the mystery of the “dark night of the soul,” as well as practical guidelines for contemplation and centering prayer, which ground us and lead to deeper spirituality.

Terry Taylor, author of “A Spirituality for Brokenness,” is executive director of International Paths for Peace, an organization focusing on interfaith dialogue. Having experienced “brokenness,” or a sense of limitation and vulnerability at mid-life, the author attempts to offer spiritual practices suitable for persons of all religions in dealing with inner division, conflict and helplessness.

Taylor suggests seven steps, among which are the Sabbath practice of withdrawing from the ordinary schedule, the Buddhist pursuit of developing compassion for oneself and others, and a form of Lectio Divina consisting of writing and reading one’s personal story.

The book amalgamates practices of the major religions and capitalizes on their insights, but at the cost of both transcendence and depth. This how-to book, aiming at personal psychological wholeness, may be helpful to some, but does not offer developmental material leading to spiritual maturity.

St. Joseph of Carondelet Sister Mona Castelazo has taught for many years in Los Angeles and is the author of “Under the Skyflower Tree: Reflections of a Nun-Entity.”


From October 2, 2009 issue of
Catholic San Francisco.


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