By Tim Reside
“And I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden wealth of secret places, in order that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name” (Isaiah 45:3).
Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, lives with bipolar disorder and is considered a leading expert on the subject of the disease. Dr. Jamison writes that poetic and artistic genius, when infused with the “fitful and inconstant moods” of highly charged euphoric and melancholic response, produce powerful “crucibles for imagination and experience.” This also seems to be evident in the lives of focused spiritual contemplatives. It has been referred to as a fine madness. Obviously, it is the typical destructive reputation and severe experience of mood disorders that make it difficult to think in terms of an upside.
Looking for meaning in the seemingly meaningless, however, has its rewards for those in pain. If persistent or recurrent pain exists only for the sake of pain, there remains for the afflicted only despair and no hope. Grasping and holding on to moments of enlightened experience can illuminate perspective and inspire one to mine the “treasures of darkness.” I find that the old “manic-depressive” terminology best describes the interplay of my brain disease and personality temperament. Research strongly suggests that, compared with the general population, poets, writers, artists, and spiritual contemplatives show a vastly disproportionate rate of bipolar disease. This is certainly not to suggest, however, that all poets, writers, artists, and contemplatives suffer from major mood disorders.
Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, calls the artist’s mood their ship of passage. Dr. Jamison writes that while the “fiery aspects of thought and feeling initially compel the artistic voyage—the fierce energy, high mood, and quick intelligence—these artistic voyagers commonly carry with them the capacity for vastly darker moods, grimmer energies, and, occasionally, bouts of madness…”
Clearly, not all manic-depressives demonstrate writing, artistry, and/or contemplative genius. In fact, Dr. Jamison writes that labeling all who are unusually creative, accomplished, energetic, intense, moody, or eccentric as manic-depressive would be a misnomer diminishing the notion of individuality and trivializing a very serious, often deadly illness. The Apostle Paul wrote that all of us possess “treasure” within fragile clay jars. Evil loves to spoil the good by taking advantage of weakness. The Apostle Paul challenges us to overcome evil by good and further writes that God has chosen to perfect His strength in the midst of acknowledged and surrendered weakness (II Corinthians 12).
While we who know persistent or recurrent dark nights of the soul would not pretend to enjoy the pain—nor wish it on our worst enemies—many of us are determined to continue mining God’s “treasures of darkness” as an ongoing way of proving to ourselves that redeeming grace transmutes what evil would use for destruction into something good and purposeful!
“The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:20).
Written comments credited to Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison were extracted from her book “Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament” published in 1993 by Free Press Paperbacks a Division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
TIM RESIDE is the President of Bright Tomorrows. Tim has completed 108 credit hours of study in Practical Theology, inclusive of 36 hours at the doctoral level, and holds an MA in Practical Theology. Tim has been successfully coping with and overcoming bipolar illness since 1979.