Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell

[Asthmatic Kitty; 2015]

Rating: 5/5

Styles: prayer
Others: Panda Bear’s Young Prayer, Josh T. Pearson, Sara Groves

A Reading From the Book of Rowan

“My pain has given me a key to love. And what is more, that love can coexist even with the continuation of feelings of fear and self-doubt. There will be for many no resolution into painlessness, into “health” in which scars and injuries will vanish. The wholeness of holiness is not that. In terms of emotional response, even in terms of superficial ease of communication with others, some will be incurably damaged and frustrated. But for such a sick person, holiness is not an empty or irrelevant ideal. There is another kind of wholeness — a wholeness of identification with the needs of the world, the self-generated and self-perpetuating tortures of the human race — a wholeness of compassion, a catholicity of sympathy, knowing one’s own incompleteness in a way that reaches out to the incompleteness of others.” – Rowan Williams

A Little Homily: Failed States, On Carrie & Lowell

The Synoptic Gospels tell an interesting story, that is, of the Gerasene Demoniac. Sailing from Galilee, Jesus and his disciples land on the Gerasene shore and are immediately assailed by a man with “an unclean spirit.” He was naked. The reader is told that chains couldn’t bind him. That: “He had his dwelling among the tombs.” And that night and day, he was heard screaming and was observed “gashing himself with stones.” This man, naked and scarred, bowed before Jesus, while his voices spoke: “do not torment [us].” They identified themselves, “we are Legion,” and plead their case. Jesus listened and, affirming the man in his humanity, cast out his sickness. The demons were cast, by a miracle, into a herd of pigs on a hill. The pigs, now possessed, ran into the sea, “thousands of them,” and perished. At the end of treatment, the former demoniac clothed himself and was left “of right mind.”

It is, no doubt, a story that has remarkable significance for those doing post-colonial theology and Biblical studies. It speaks to a truly sad reality about those made sick by oppression (cf. Fanon), about those who remain oppressed by the legions of this world. But as a mental health clinician, it pisses me off. Not because it locates the source of mental illness at the cross-section of situation and embodiment (which is both prescient and accurate), and not because it posits the reality of a talking cure at the cross-section of relationality and critique (likewise), but because it gives the impression that work of healing is easy — quite literally, a matter of commanding — and that the result is efficient and tidy, rather than lifelong. But we cannot command the illness to leave, not like that. No, we “healers” fumble — constantly — over shitty diagnoses, vogue treatments, experimental polypharmacologies, underfunded clinics, and the consumers themselves, who often remain, above all failings of bureaucracy and social policy, humanly inimical to change. I’ve discussed nakedness and shrieking and self-harm with clients many times without effect. Then again, I’m not Jesus.

At the end of the bible story, the people of Gerasene want Jesus to leave. It could be a number of factors: fear of the local political and/or religious authorities being most likely, and anger at wasted livestock being least. I suspect that, at the heart of the matter, it’s more than either, though. Imagine, for a moment, that preference is shifted away from yourself to the outcast Other. Imagine the moment of healing that passes over you. Imagine the space that it leaves open, a new reality shaped by the presence of another who is made new. But you’re still old, still you. You are distant from your family and your partner, and you’re isolated within your community. You’re left under the threat of your compulsions, impulses, psychoses. You are left alone with your defenses, your deficiencies, your ugly personality. Pleasure becomes meaningless through abuse; you forget what it means. Your Zyprexa is causing you to gain weight, while your Seroquel is making you exhausted, while your Klonopin is making you dependent, and it’s long since lost its therapeutic effect. Your healing has been evaded another day, month, year. Thousands of them, roaming around on the cliff, ready to plunge, but too lethargic to take the next step. The experience, it’s said, is often longer than the duration.

“Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?”

Let us pray:

Spirit of my silence I can hear you, but I’m afraid to be near you
And I don’t know where to begin

Fuck me I’m falling apart

My black shroud
I never trust my feelings
I waited for the remedy

We’re all gonna die

You checked your texts while I masturbated
Fuck me I’m falling apart

For my prayer has always been love
What did I do to deserve this?

We’re all gonna die

Now I’m drunk and afraid, wishing the world would go away
Fuck me I’m falling apart

Everything I see returns to you somehow
We’re all gonna die

Everything I see returns to you somehow
Fuck me I’m falling apart


Under the pear tree
Shadows and light conspiring

I can hear you

So can we be friends, sweetly
Before the mystery ends?

I’m afraid to be near you

I search for the council I lost
I don’t know where to begin

Lord, touch me with lightning
Lord, touch me with lightning

Lord, touch me with lightning
Lord, touch me with lightning

But every road leads to an end
Yes every road leads to an end


Links: Sufjan Stevens - Asthmatic Kitty

Most Read