“Now the spirit of the Lord departed from Shaul and a רוח רעה ru’ach ra’ah, an evil spirit from the Lord began to terrify him.”
What to do, indeed, when God’s light, God’s very Presence departs from you? It is an invisible phenomenon, but a discrete and frightening occurrence that I know. Not that God has ever chosen me the way God chose King Shaul, of course, but, in my own, small way, I feel God in my life — and then, suddenly, not.
It is reflected in the puzzlement in the doctor’s gentle questioning: did something precipitate this drop in mood? “No,” I say, anticipating his disbelief. “I was fine, I was a bit manic for a few days, and then. . . well, then I dropped off the edge of the cliff and I am still falling.” He may not understand, but he tries to help.
I walk into shul on Shabbat, and I have no skin between me and my fellow congregants. They are kind, they are loving, they see too much, and I cower in the bathroom before leyning, and leave early to avoid the conversations at Kiddush.
Shaul had David and his music. I have a therapist whose kind words and open heart surround me, like a hammock beneath me while the רוח רעה, the evil spirit, the bad energy, if you will, breathes through me. Sometimes words can help; sometimes words fail.
What do you do, what should you do, when God seems to desert you? Did the Holy One of Blessing completely leave King Shaul, or simply try to show him to a new role in the world? Sometimes we mistake an ending for the ending. But, then, for Shaul, it was the beginning of the end. He couldn’t find a way to be, without being king. He mistook his pain in the moment for unending pain. And no one, it seemed, could tell him differently.
This, too, I understand. The depression comes and goes. I know this intellectually. But when I am in the middle of the fall, when I reach out for God and find only emptiness, a vast void where once was Presence, intellectual knowledge means little. It come and goes? It leaves only to return again. Where to put my faith: in the recurrence or the remission? In God’s presence, or absence?
The music worked for Shaul while it worked. And then, his pain would return. But so would David and his lyre.
So, too, do I, do all of us, put our faith in one another. We walk together in light and darkness, our voices and music creating a path in the night, reminding us of God’s grace, of God’s return. Sometimes we are Shaul, with a רוח רעה squeezing our hearts so hard we can barely breath. Sometimes we are David, providing a message of hope, that the רוח יי, a spirit from God, might yet return. And sometimes, we are blessed to be the lyre itself, strings of connection between the worlds, between our souls and the Soul of World.
Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care, and works in mental health outreach offering national scholar-in-residence programs. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.