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Get down with it

Just, wow. I was going to post my absolutely favorite, butt-kickingest anti-depression prayer right up front in Lent...and I discover it is actually a Lenten prayer! Not for Roman Catholics, but for our Eastern Orthodox brethren. Folks, I give you:



The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter. [kneel, bow, or prostration]

Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience and love. [kneel, bow, etc.]

O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen. [kneel, bow, etc.]

St. Ephrem the Syrian is a Doctor of the Church who lived in present-day Turkey from about 306 to 370 AD. He wrote in the Syriac language and was a prolific author of hymns, many composed to combat the rampant heresies of his day; they would be sung by all-female choirs playing lyres, which sounds a lot more interesting than CCD class.

The prayer above, however, was composed by his later admirers, who admired him so much that they would make stuff up and sign it "Ephrem the Syrian," apparently. (Even then, imitation was the sincerest form of flattery.) What makes this prayer kick butt, of course, are the moves prescribed within. Apparently some Eastern believers bow from the waist and others actually do the whole flat-on-the-floor thing. I would tell you what I do, but then I'd have to kill you. (Hint: I have osteoarthritis of the knee, so it's nothing worthy of The DaVinci Code.) However, any kind of moves you can do accomplish a twofold purpose:

1. You wake up and focus.

2. You feel like an idiot.

3. Oh, yes, three is: Because of (2), you "pray in your room in secret" just like Jesus ordered. Which is kind of cool.

Copyright by Allie Brosh, "Hyperbole and a Half"For those of us who suffer from depression, the prayer contains a powerful appeal to avoid "acedia," the dreaded monastic spiritual affliction of just not giving a crap about anything (certainly not about religious practice). This concept is a rich and tricky one, since acedia mutated into the better-known deadly sin of sloth, and it's hard enough dealing with the biochemical burden of depression without mixing it up with a deadly sin. The spiritual author Kathleen Norris explores this conundrum at rambling but sometimes illuminating length in her book Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life.

The rubrics (physical positions) prescribed in the prayer seem designed with depression sufferers in mind. Sometimes, you just need to get moving. (The wise prankster St. Philip Neri once had a melancholic young man approach him for spiritual direction; instead, Philip lit out for the streets of Rome, saying, "Run with me!" to the astonished young man. A personal trainer for the soul!)

If you're not ready for bowing or prostration, crank this up; it's a Little Richard rarity. I don't know if St. Ephrem would have approved, but I suspect St. Philip would've loved it.


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