Making A Way Out of No Way
Wisdom from Monica A. Coleman
On Faith, Depression and Social Action
Follow Monica A. Coleman on Twitter: @monicaacoleman
Making a Way Out of No Way by Monica Coleman
Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression
by Monica Coleman
Help Me Jesus!
If you suffer from depression it helps to have a community of friends for comfort. It also helps if some among them have known sadness and suffering, perhaps even physical death.
For Christians one of those living ancestors -- sitting very close to the heart of God - is the living Jesus. Of course, T\the whole idea that we can experience Jesus as a living ancestor is viewed with suspicion by modernist or liberal Christians. But makes sense to process theologians because, after all, death is not the final story, not for Jesus and not for anyone. Those who have passed away in the flesh can indeed enjoy and suffer a continuing journey after death. It is possible that our relations with loved ones can even be enhanced after death: See Can Relations Improve After Death?
We live in a multi-dimensional universe and departed ancestors can indeed dwell in some of those dimensions, some of which can be contacted subjectively, in the depths of the heart.
When we say "thank you Jesus" in our hearts, we are not simply thanking someone who once existed, we are thanking someone who still exists, perhaps close to the very heart of the One in whom we live and move and have our being. For process thinkers, living ancestors can indeed be living.
This does not mean that only Jesus can be accessed in worship or in times of trial. For Monica A. Coleman and others, it is possible that we can find comfort in the memories of many who have lived, and perhaps also in their presence. Consider her comments in the video above on Yoruba religion. Among the cloud of witnesses, there may be many, many companions.
Monica A. Coleman is a philosophical theologian who works with a process metaphysic and the black and womanist theological traditions.
Her research interests include process theology, new movements in black and womanist theologies, African traditional religions (Yoruba-based traditions in the Americas), mental health and theology and religious pluralism. is a co-Director of the Center for Process Studies, and co-chair of the Black Theology Group and a member of the steering committee of the Open and Relational Theologies Consultation for the American Academy of Religion.
An ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she is an active ecumenist, having served as a staff minister in AME churches, interdenominational churches, and on the USA Faith and Order Commission at the National Council of Churches.
---from the Claremont School of Theology
The Courage to Get Out of Bed
A psychiatrist friend and I were talking about acts of courage that we have witnessed in our lives. We talked about various kinds of bravery, physical and emotional.
"Some of the most courageous people I have ever known," she said, "are those who suffer from very severe depression, who are almost totally debilitated from the suffering, and who step foot out of bed in the morning. Taking a step is an act of courage."
She was referring to act which Monica Coleman calls Making a Way Out of No Way.
It is an African-American expression, and it means exactly what it says. We find ourselves in circumstances from which there seems to be no exit, and yet we must make a way out of no way.
In Monica Coleman's theology, the phrase works at multiple levels: personal, familial, social, and political. In the video she emphasizes the social and political side. She is interested in how, as communities of people in a broken world, we might help bring forth bring forth opportunities for justice, equity, creativity and dignity in what can seem like hopeless or at least difficult situations.
Nevertheless, these sorts of political concerns are not the whole story, Consider her article in the Huffington Post, reprinted below, called Losing Faith, Finding Hope: A Journey With Depression. She explains how she herself has experienced depression and needed, as it were, to take that single step out of bed.
One thing valuable about her theology is that she pays attention to both dimensions of life, the personal and the political, the individual and the communal. Making a Way Out of No Way is a central dynamic at both levels.
God Helps Us Make a Way Out of No Way
How do people do this? It takes powerful effort to make a way out of no way, and it also takes faith that a way can be made even when no way seems available. In the language of process theology, it takes "trust in the availability of fresh possibilities."
Where does this trust come from? It might seem as if we make ourselves trust, as if the trust were a pure act of will. individual or collective. But for process thinkers the trust is a response to something still deeper that comes to us as a gift and that we cannot simply will into existence.
That something is God's love. Monica Coleman puts it simply: "God helps us make a way out of no way."
How Does God Help Us?
Courage and Guidance
This helping is not an act of force or coercion on God' part, but it does have an energy of its own. Imagine that you are in a dire situation in your life and that someone with a non-anxious presence is your companion along the way. This someone cannot reverse the situation or change the past, but still you feel her mood as she sits with you. In the language of Whitehead, you feel her feelings.
This is one way that we are helped by God. Inwardly and through the mediation of others, we actually feel the feelings of God's love within us. It is a feeling of being understood and accepted in a non-judgmental way, and it includes a sense of peace and inner courage. The peace and courage belong to God and to us, neither to the exclusion of the other. The courage comes from God's confidence in us.
Imagine further that this person offers proposals -- lures for feeling and reflection -- to which you can respond, sometimes through words and sometimes simply through expressions in her face. These proposals are fresh possibilities. Thus you find yourself filled with trust and also aware of fresh possibilities.
In process theology the fresh possibilities come from God, too. Sometimes they come directly, in moments of solitude, and sometimes they are mediated by communities of solidarity and care: friends and family, church and community. Thus, moment by moment, and in situations of no exit, we nevertheless find openings and the courage to respond to them.
Monica A. Coleman puts it rightly: "God is One who helps us to Make a Way Out of No Way."
Losing Faith, Finding Hope: