Salt and Seed
Anxiety and Resurrection
When I read these words, I was given a sudden insight into what have been the darkest passages of my life, my periodic struggle with anxiety. I am fortunate to be healthy now, but during periods in my adult life—four periods, to be exact, coinciding precisely and not at all coincidentally with the infancies of my four children—I have experienced severe and consuming anxiety on a daily, hourly, minute-to-minute basis. In the terrible depths of those months, made bearable only by the pleasure that my infants gave me, I couldn't describe what I felt, only that I didn't feel alive, didn't feel that I belonged to my life. But Miller's words above captured exactly what I experienced: my mind spinning forward out of control, away from the present moment where my body and my babies waited, headlong into catastrophic fantasies. I didn't feel alive because I was dead, my spirit separated from my body, the hand out of the glove.
Is there a resurrection from the death of anxiety? Yes, Miller says. Resurrection is a reuniting of the spirit with the body, and thus to revive oneself from the mental splitting of anxiety is simply to return one's attention to one's body in the present moment. He writes:
To foreground the present moment is, first and foremost, to foreground the depth, breadth, and complexity of our embodiment, our sensations, our groundedness in the flesh. It is to feel the breath in one's lungs, the blood in one's veins, the light in one's eyes, the rushing of a mighty wind in one's ears. ... This Spirit-worked reunion with one's body in the everlasting fire of the present moment is the essence of resurrection.
Anxiety is death; resurrection is presence. By consciously returning my mind to the given grace of the present, I bring my spirit back into union with my body. I'm alive again; I belong to my life again. Just as I practice repentance a hundred times a day, spiritually enacting my ultimate reunion with God, I can practice resurrection a hundred times a day, spiritually enacting an ultimate reunion of spirit with body. Anxiety is death; resurrection is presence.
Thinking about my experiences with post-partum anxiety in this light has allowed me to make spiritual sense of those dark months in a way that had eluded me before, and it has given me a spiritual practice for escaping the darkness if it should descend again. The best theology doesn't always make the best therapy; I found in Miller's essay a happy exception to that rule. As he would put it, "Nothing could be more merciful."
Rosalynde Welch is an independent scholar who makes her home in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and four children.