The Fell of Dark
Gerard Manley Hopkins
I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.
I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.
Why “The Fell of Dark”?
Under the providence of God, I have come to know something of what it is to be driven to cry, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my body.” (Psalm 22:14).
I am, or I was, a pastor of a Reformed church in a small corner of God’s Vineyard. Almost three years ago, I suffered a breakdown. According to my doctor, the immediate cause was severe exhaustion. I am yet to find the end of God’s purpose in this trial but I hold fast to the promise that my God is one who “works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). And I wait urgently, because after a year of working on my recovery and then returning to work, I suffered a second and much more severe breakdown. I am now unemployed and registered partially disabled. I have been diagnosed with severe depression with anxiety. I am unable to function as a pastor. In fact, on some days, I can barely function at all.
As I have struggled to make sense of what has happened to me, to reconcile the shadow of my present self with the man that I thought that I was, I have taken special refuge in one book – the Book of the Psalms. Someone once said that the Psalms were God’s medicine chest for the heart. That has been true for me. And I thank God for it.
In the psalms we can find the starkest realities of the believer’s life, the soaring heights and the deepest depths. We find men desperately calling to God for help, seemingly at the very end of their physical and spiritual strength, yet at the same time praising Him for His loyalty and His tender mercy. And I have found, as the months and weeks, and sometimes the hours and minutes, have passed, that I am far better off reading and reflecting on these all-too-real-life, God-breathed words than I ever will be losing myself in my own terrible and self-destructive thoughts. Not that it’s been easy. With a concentration span that’s limited to the minutes rather than the hours, sometimes it’s been a verse, even a phrase, at a time. But every time that God, by His Spirit, has driven me to these precious words, every time that He’s given me the desire and the strength to take more of this precious medicine, it’s been worth it.
I am still alive. And that has not always been certain. More than that, I am still alive and still believing, still being kept, by God’s grace. For what purpose, I cannot begin to imagine. But I am slowly learning to be content that God does have a purpose.
For almost a year, my dear friend Chris, whom I met while at university so many years ago, has rung me faithfully, every weekend. We talk – or, rather, most of the time I talk and he listens. Fortunately, he’s a good listener, as I have proved to be a most rambling talker! And Chris has consistently proved to be wise and gracious. One of the things that we have talked about is my deep interest in the Psalms. It was Chris who, after I told him that my Occupational Therapist had suggested that I write a diary, encouraged me to combine the two and to write about my reflections on the psalms. And, having tried that on Facebook, and failed, it was Chris who suggested an online blog, or website. And then it was also Chris who suggested the title, The Fell of Dark, and, in doing do, introduced me to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
As soon as I read the lines of this poem, they resonated with me. I know something of what it is to wake and feel the fell of dark, not day. I read it and wept. I wept for myself; for the poet; and for the unknown millions who suffer with Depression’s Darkness most acutely, both seeing and yet not seeing the Face of God in that darkness.
I offer no answers to the perplexing and searching questions that depression throws up. I am in no position to counsel anyone. I can scarcely counsel myself. What I hope to do is to share my fears and my hopes as honestly as I am able. You will see my doubts. I hope, also, you will see my faith.
Any fault in my words I own in advance. For any good, to God, alone, be the glory.
Richard Matthews S.D.G.