A ‘Blue Christmas?’ Stories seek sad holiday angles

So, how are you this Christmas season?

No, really. How are you?

Are you doing all right, in your Christmas of white? Has it been a year filled with blessings and prosperity, with your nearest and dearest gathered around you as you all enjoy a season of remembrance and joy?

Or, like me, are you disovering that the decorations of red on a green Christmas tree just aren’t the same in the wake of a life-altering loss?

For readers not necessarily having a holly jolly Christmas (pause) this year, an Associated Press story headlined “Churches offer ‘Blue Christmas’ for those in need” might grab your attention instead.

That’s a good thing, as this story did justice to the trend of congregations offering more reflective, candlelit services designed for those who have experienced a loss or traumatic event and find all the festivity of the season too much to handle:

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The crowd was small for a Christmastime church service, the atmosphere quiet and solemn. There were no joyous carols, no children dressed as nativity characters, no festive decorations.

About two dozen people gathered Monday night for a “Blue Christmas” service at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis. It’s among many nationwide providing a special service aimed directly at those in need of spiritual healing — whether due to divorce, tough economic times, the loss of a loved one or whatever has them feeling down at the holidays.

Charles Brown, 35, is still grieving the loss of his mother, who died in June of congestive heart failure. After Monday’s service, Brown stuck around to be anointed with oil and for private words of healing from one of the pastors.

“He told me God is with me, God will bless me,” Brown said. “I feel like this was a chance to lay my burden down. It gave me comfort.”

The report, though short, did a nice job exploring the psychology behind the need for the services and sharing thoughts from those who organize and had attended. It also represented well different faith groups and traditions:

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As on a darkling plain – Prozac and France

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach, stanza 3, (1867)

More bad news for France.

The lede in the back cover story (page 22) in the Nov 26, 2013 issue of Le Monde reports: « La France a perdu un record. Mais personne ne s’en plaindra. » (France has lost a record, but no one will be complaining.)

The article entitled « La France n’est plus leader dans la consommation d’antidépresseurs » reports La belle France has lost its coveted status as Europe’s number one country for pill-popping.

Parmi les champions d’Europe de la consommation d’antidépresseurs en tout genre, le pays est maintenant largement distancé dans sa fringale de psychotropes. Selon le rapport 2013 de l’Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques (OCDE) sur la santé (« Health at a Glance 2013 ») publié le 21 novembre, l’Hexagone se situe même sous la moyenne des 23 pays du classement, ex aequo avec l’Allemagne ! Une prouesse au pays de la « sinistrose ».

Once among the European champions in the consumption of antidepressants, the country has lost ground in its consumption of psychotropic munchies. According to the 2013 report “Health at a Glance” from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published on Nov 21, l’Hexagone (France) is even below average of the 23 countries ranked, and is tied with the land of gloom, Germany. Quite an accomplishment!

The article reports that France is tied with Germany and Slovenia in 15th place in consuming 50 doses per 1000 people per day, while Iceland reigns supreme with 106 doses per day. The French are now less depressed than the Danes (4), Swedes (5), Portuguese (6), British (7), Belgians (9),  Spanish (10), Norwegians (11),  and Luxembourgers (12).

Greece did not turn in any data, the article adds, but notes the number of suicides in that country has risen 45 per cent from 2007 to 2011.

It is in its discussion of the “why” — why the increase in the use of antidepressants that this piece strays into Get Religion land.  Quoting Gaétan Lafortune, the coordinator of the report, Le Monde writes:

La crise? « l’idée que la récession, le chômage ont plongé certains individus dans une profonde détres se », note M. Lafortune.

The crisis? “We can not rule out the idea that the recession and unemployment has plunged individuals into deep depression,” notes Mr. Lafortune.

However, he adds that in Germany where there is “almost full employment” the use of “antidepressants increased by 46 per cent between 2007 and 2011″, while the “lucky country” of Australia is second on the list of antidepressant consumers. Le Monde further muses on the apparent lack of correlation between economic well-being and consumption of antidepressants, finally coming to the conclusion the increase is due to the lack of stigma surrounding mental illness and over prescription of pills by physicians.

Perhaps, but is there not a religion ghost here as well? Could, or should, Le Monde have addressed the question whether the decline of religious faith, the moral ennui and entropy that has taken hold of Europe been considered? Would the discussion of the “why” been improved by a question or comment or two from psychologists or religious leaders addressing the issue of the meaning of life?

France is after all the land of Sartre, Camus and existentialism. Whether it was couched in faith, philosophy or psychology this story would have been stronger with a discussion of the “why” that moved beyond materialism.

“[F]or the world, which seems,” Matthew Arnold wrote in stanza four of Dover Beach,

To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night


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