Friday, August 15, 2014

Looking for a Sign

One of the largest reasons I was first attracted to the Religious Society of Friends was the life and ministry of George Fox. I’ve told people before that if I ever strike it rich, I want to have a quality film made about Fox, Fell, Nayler, and Penn. It is a shame how poorly documented the English Civil War really is, even with the looming legend of Oliver Cromwell and a lengthy, complicated Civil War. I wouldn’t want the big-budget Hollywood treatment, only a truthful account full of legitimate actors and actresses.

Like George Fox, I wandered when I was depressed. Sometimes I locked myself up in my room for days at a time. Modern-day historians have speculated that Fox had what is now called bipolar disorder. Seeking a cure, he kept moving from place to place, trying to keep his head above water. Nothing much of any substance happened during most of his wanderings, but as we know he did find he was looking for in the end.

I was born a Methodist and remember as a child kneeling on the carpeted, clean altar rail next to my parents and sisters, accepting the blood and body of Jesus. I felt a bit cheated because I had to make do with wafers and grape juice in place of the real bread and wine some of my friends were given for Communion. There was a kind of reverence in taking part, the kind that kept even hyperactive children silent and still for the duration. I make note of this ceremony because this was one of the few times I felt calm and fully in touch with the Spirit. I never doubted that God was present in church, because I felt it keenly.

Many years later, when I was feeling very depressed, and living alone in an unfamiliar city, I attended a liberal Episcopal church. A man who sat next to me knew that I was unfamiliar with the liturgy and showed me the ropes. I will never forget his kindness, though I doubt our paths will ever cross again. Printed on the order of service was an offer to grant special blessings from a priest. I hadn't done anything wrong, but I felt extremely guilty anyway, which is typical of depression. I believed that God was punishing me somehow and I intended to find out what I’d done wrong.

This is how I know a little of what George Fox went through when he was a young man. Like Fox, I wandered from church to church and place to place, shutting myself off in my room for days on an end. I tried every curative imaginable and found myself only disappointed at the end. Returning to how I began this post, Fox’s manic-depression would make my imaginary screenplay that much more poignant, as would a realistic depiction of mental illness.

But in any case, back to my story. The man who had been looking out for me directed to me a priest. I remember that she was blonde-haired, middle-aged, and Australian. Her conduct towards me was gentle and calm. She asked me what had brought me to her. I was too afraid to say, afraid it would make me seem strange. Anointing the sick is a regular practice in the Episcopal Church. I had nothing substantial to ask for, unless that meant that specifically asking meant being free from pain and evil counted. Perhaps I needed a priest’s help to best convey the message.

She gently asked me a couple more times for why I felt so guilty and ashamed. Then she smiled, and retrieved a small container of Holy Oil from the altar behind her. She anointed my forehead with the sign of the cross with all the appropriate words, then bid me on my way.

I didn't wash off the oil for three days afterwards.

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