“Talk to your computer,” I was told the other day but, as my computer has no ears, I’m writing instead.

As the feast of Christmas approaches I reckon there are some rather mixed feelings around. We’re supposed to be happy saints in “joyful expectation of the Feast of the Nativity” and yet I read that so many people get depressed this time of year. For some it is SAD during the short days and early darkness, for others the jolly atmosphere of Xmas simply brings into sharper focus the sadness or worry they are currently carrying around with them.

You might think that if we were better Christians we would never get depressed and always be certain that not only God is good but that he definitely exists. You might even go so far as to think that a depressed, confused or doubting Christian is a bad one.

No so! Recently the Church commemorated St John of the Cross who’s most famous phrase is probably “The long dark night of the soul” (so Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently is not the first to use that kind of phrase). St John was a Spanish mystic of the 16th century and his spiritual insight was that our journey of faith includes times when there is no felt experience of God. The reason being that we are called to believe and trust God – not in the experiences of him and ideas about him we may have, no matter how noble they may seem. Uncertainty is unsettling though.

An earlier mystic, an Englishman this time, Richard Rolle talks about the cloud of unknowing: those occasions when we simply have no idea what we mean by God. “I haven’t the foggiest idea about God” just about sums it up.

Doubt, confusion, and even depression are part of the human lot and many saints have experienced them. However, the sadness we may be feeling does not have to have the last word in our life: the message of Christmas is, after all, about the light of heaven touching down on earth into ordinary as well as into privileged lives. But the experience of the saints means that being depressed does not make you a bad person.

And finally, while some nights do seem very long, none of them are endless.

[You might also like to look at this link for an orthodox perspective: look up December 15 2010 in the archive]