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Someone—Red Smith, Paul Gallico, Ernest Hemingway, Anonymous Unknown—said that writing is easy. “…sit down and open a vein.” Quote Investigator offers a delightful glimpse in trying to track down the origin of the quote. < http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/09/14/writing-bleed/ >

Whoever first used the image well understood the intimacy of writing, of putting one’s most sacred and perhaps profane inner thoughts on paper and attempting to communicate in such a way that others will understand. Writers not only open a vein; they also open their hearts.

Robert Griggs opened a vein and his heart in writing A Pelican of the Wilderness: Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies. His story is autobiographical, the story of an emotional breakdown while in pastoral ministry. Griggs shows the effects of striving to please many people while neglecting oneself, a pattern of behavior that impacts many clergy and religious professionals. He reflects on his time in a mental health institution and on movies that speak to the depths of his soul. He writes of the beautiful lamentation–the outpouring of the soul–he discovered in the Psalms. The weaving of this book includes references to movies, such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Big Lebowski, and insights from sources as distinct as Walter Brueggemann, Barbara Brown Taylor, and John Bradshaw.

Griggs’ work reminds me of Canto I of The Inferno: “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there.”

Griggs, in the middle of life’s journey, found himself in the dark wood of depression and attempted suicide. Instead of stopping at the edge of the dark wood, he went through the dark passage, coming to a new sense of himself and of his vocation. His book is a glimpse of the pain of life spent trying to please others, of acquiescing to conflict, and of recovery from the ongoing influence of childhood shame. As with Dante, Griggs tells us of the good he found in that dark wood.

I am grateful that the Rev. Griggs opened himself to write of his journey and to speak of healing. I hope that other clergy will read this book and gain some insight into their own journeys.

A Pelican of the Wilderness: Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies. Robert W. Griggs. Cascade Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-62032-559-9. Available from the usual online booksellers.

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