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Asking the clergy: How can clergy help with winter depression?

"No matter how blue you may feel during this season, you are not alone," says the Rev. Ian Rottenberg. Credit: ISTOCK

January is often called the most depressing month of the year, when skies are gray, New Year’s resolutions are broken and holiday bills come due. And then there’s Long Island’s February to get through. This week’s clergy discuss how believers can put spring back in their hearts long before the snow melts and the daffodils bloom.

The Rev. Douglas R. Arcoleo

Pastor, Our Holy Redeemer R.C. Church, Freeport

What do you do when “all the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray”? Although many people might, like the Mamas and Papas, begin “California Dreamin’ on such a winter’s day,” the clergy can help with winter depression by proclaiming the “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) This good news of great joy helped with “winter depression” on a cold winter’s night that was so deep 2,000 years ago, and it can help today. We’re told in the Letter to the Hebrews that the good news of great joy did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham; it was the angel of the Lord who first proclaimed it to the shepherds, to Mary and to Joseph. And with each proclamation the angel of the Lord began with the words “be not afraid.” Therefore, I say to my fellow clergy-members, with the words of the angel of the Lord: “Be not afraid” to be a friend to those who are suffering and encourage them by proclaiming this good news of great joy because it is (as the angel of the Lord declared) for all the people. It is this babe born of Mary, himself tested through what he suffered, who is able to help those who are being tested; even with “winter depression.” I say, with help from James Taylor: “winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you gotta do is call and (your clergy) will be there yes (we) will! You’ve gotta friend.”

The Rev. Ian Rottenberg

Teaching pastor, Garden City Community Church

One of the greatest messages clergy can share is that no matter how dark things may seem, we are not alone. Our communities of faith are where we can come together not only to celebrate the things in our lives that are good, but also to acknowledge our weaknesses and our troubles. Too often when we go to church, we feel as if we have to put on a “happy face” and act as if all is right in our lives. The Christian faith teaches the opposite, namely that honesty about our pain, our suffering and our personal struggles is a step toward the help that others in our community can offer. The truth is, none of our lives is perfect, and all of us know the pain of self-doubt and sadness. Churches aren’t meant to be places where we pretend the darkness isn’t there, but rather places where we say to one another, “If you’re struggling today even to put one foot in front of the other to take the next step, you can lean on the rest of us. Because we’ve been there, and we’ve seen the goodness that comes when we accept the help and support of others.” No matter how blue you may feel during this season, you are not alone. And you don’t have to pretend that you are. But it will help to allow yourself to be loved by members of your community who know how it feels, and who are there to help.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen

Chabad at Stony Brook, Lake Grove

Friends, winter depression can be overwhelming. It’s hard to believe you can escape it. The good news is that help is out there. The Talmud tells a story of Rabbi Chiyah, who fell ill. Rabbi Yochanan came to visit, and with a blessing, miraculously cured him. The Talmud describes another occasion when Rabbi Yochanan himself fell ill. Rabbi Chaninah came to visit and miraculously cured him, too, with a blessing. Asks the Talmud: If Rabbi Yochanan can cure someone else, why can’t he cure himself? To which the Talmud replies: “A prisoner can’t free himself from prison.” If one is in captivity, he cannot free himself, but someone else can. If one is in a pit, he cannot get out alone, but someone above ground can throw a rope and help him to freedom. The same is true with depression. Having family, friends, neighbors or clergy encourage and check up on you serves as the rope — the helping hand — to free you from the pit of winter despair. But rabbis and other clergy members can bring something else as well. During the summer, the balmy weather, outdoor activities and generally lighter mood offer a diversion; people are busy and seem happier. Yet often, the “distraction” means they’re only scratching the surface of life, experiencing it on a superficial level. The winter months present the opportunity, often times with the help of rabbis and other clergy, to dig deep, to question life’s purpose, to find greater substance. It’s time not to live in a mode of “distraction,” but from a place of meaning, inner happiness and genuine joy.

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