Last year, I was writing on mental illness and the Incarnation. It's nice to have a common-or-garden sickness instead
Being, as regular readers will be all too aware, The World’s Sickliest Man, I am currently ill. Fortunately, my maladie du jour is just your common-or-garden dizziness and sickness. Nothing that a day in bed, fortified by black coffee, Sports Mixture, and Alison Krauss won’t, if not cure, then at least render bearable. A change, after all, is as good as a break.
Idly flicking through my computer folders this morning, I came across one with the mysterious title “New book”. It’s not the only such folder lurking on there: I’ve at least five of them at the minute, only one of which could be described as a “work-in-progress” with anything other than heavy sarcasm. For the most part, they are just jottings of notes and half-ideas – some little more than (what I no doubt naively think is) a clever title.
The other folders, though, I can actually remember what’s in them. With “New book” I had no idea. So I opened it, and was very glad I did.
The folder consisted of a single file, last opened several months ago. In it, I found the opening three paragraphs of an abandoned introduction that, thankfully, I’ve no longer any desire to resume.
I’m glad I found it though. It puts this week’s frustrations – some important meetings postponed, planned progress on my actual book-in-progress forestalled – in a consoling perspective.
Here it is, for what it’s worth:
This would be a better, and vastly more sellable, book if it began on a skyscraper ledge. If, in the grip of depression and contemplating something awful, a half-forgotten phrase from John’s Gospel had seared itself suddenly across my mind: “the Word became flesh and lived among us'”(1:14). And if these words had then set me off on a path of investigation and consolation, towards both a fuller understanding of the heart of the Christian message, and moreover, a second chance to “have life, and have it abundantly” (10:10).
Unfortunately – unfortunately for my publisher’s bank balance, at least – this actual book begins someplace far less dramatic. It is a weekday afternoon in October and I am still in bed, still in my pyjamas. Two features of that fantasy bestseller are, though, perfectly true. I am truly in the (vice) grip of depression. And my mind – such as it is – is indeed preoccupied with the incarnation: that is, with the extraordinary assertion that God himself became, fully and forever, a human being.
Now I’ve no doubt that one could write an excellent Christian self-help book, taking the incarnation as its guiding theme. In fact, what better starting premises could there be than that “God so loved the world’ – even me – “that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16), that this Son “has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases’, and that ‘by his bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4) to the point of ensuring that ‘”hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). Sadly though, I’ve no idea how to write a book about how to find consolation and mental healing through meditating on the idea of God becoming man. If I did, then I suppose that I’d be sufficiently consoled and mentally healed not still to be in my pyjamas in the afternoon.
Three-and-a-half months later, it is a weekday afternoon in January. And I am, once again, still in bed, still in my pyjamas.
But I’ll tell you something. I don’t suppose that anyone has even been happier to (just) have vertigo.