Thought for the Day - 24/06/2014 - Rev Dr Giles Fraser

When Italy stride out onto the pitch tonight for their decisive World Cup match against Uruguay, they will be expecting a great deal from their celebrated goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon. He didn’t play against England the other week because he was suffering from an ankle injury. Now he has recovered. But the more remarkable story is of his recovery from depression – though recovery is probably never really the right word. Back in 2001, Juventus bought Buffon from Palma for £32.5 million – and he remains the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. Yet a couple of years after his move, Buffon could hardly bring himself to get into his car to go to the training ground.

To start with at least, he felt unable to tell anyone about it. Beautiful looking, rich, talented: who on earth was going to believe him or have any sympathy? But, from somewhere, he began to find the courage to talk about it and sought help from friends and a psychologist. And good for him.

My job is not saving goals, but saving souls – though, over the last couple of years, the soul that I’ve been struggling most to save has probably been my own. I’m aware, of course, how self-absorbed this sounds. And I suppose it is. But there’s a terrifying rawness about depression that focuses you inward and closes you off the world. After church some Sunday mornings, I often want to run away from my congregation all asking me, quite rightly, to deal with their problems, both great and small. And what good is a vicar if he’s constantly in pieces?

Yet, when I read the Bible, I hear the witness of people who are themselves unafraid to speak about being in pieces. The psalmist is the most obvious example. “My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”” …. - and it’s a perfectly reasonable question: where is God in all of this?

Well, I’m not able to supply some pat answer. If salvation means anything it’s not like some superstitious quick fix or short-cut instant cure – religious or indeed medical. Rather, the church feels, to me, more like a convalescent home, a place of extended recovery where people are trying to speak openly about their wounds and where we’re all given the reassurance of being loved and cared for. And maybe part of what’s going on here is some sort of extended clearing-out process, of ego twisting realignment to a reality that I/we had somehow lost sight of. And maybe, witnessing to all of this is a pretty useful job for a priest to do. Maybe that is the job.

Which is why I’m always encouraged by hearing others, like Buffon, putting their hands up, saying “me too” and yet carrying on as wonderful evidence that depression need not be overwhelming or ultimately destroying. Extending a phrase from Luther, I want to call this witness the priesthood of all believers.

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