Saturday, May 21, 2005

States of the mind

It’s Saturday night. It’s been a long day – this morning, for my sins (ie. being on the General Synod of the Church of England) I attended our diocesan synod. However, the morning was made worthwhile by an excellent presentation by Professor Glynn Harrison, Professor of the Academic Unit of Psychiatry from the University of Bristol. In 20 minutes he briefed us on public policy on the care for people with mental illness in the UK. Then he handled some amazing questions. In essence, if the 1990s were about dealing with mental illness through a drug-therapy paradigm, the 2000s are about a return to context-analysis arising from the way scientists have realised (from work on the human genome) that genes respond to environmental stimuli. In other words, our genes don’t ‘pre-programme’ us from birth. They are responsive to the things that happen to us. In discussing the role of hallucinations, I was led to reflect on the blurred boundary between hallucination and religious experience. I have spoken with a number of people over the years who have experienced psychotic episodes, some of a religious nature. Glynn Harrison began his talk by stating that psychiatry tends to talk now in less polarised terms of the mentally ill/healthy. All of us experience stress on our minds from various sources, but for some this means that normal life functions are disrupted to a degree which requires treatment. For those who I have spoken with, it is clear that these are in a continuum with religious states that many of us who are Christians would relate to. It is therefore difficult (and I would say, ‘wrong’) to rule out all experiences in a period of mental illness as produced solely by the psychosis. For example, during periods of mental stress, I believe that we are often more open to encountering God than when things are running more ‘normally’.

This afternoon, I attended an open day at St Paul’s (one of my two churches). The chuch was hosting a exhibition of art work and sale of fairly-traded goods as part of its response to Christian Aid week. John Hoyland had put together are really cool compilation CD of tracks which were playing over the PA throughout the afternoon. Nice one John!

In the evening I went to a concert back at the church by the ‘rhythm and blues’ orchestra of my daughter’s school (the head of music goes to St Paul’s). It’s difficult to describe the overwhelming sense of pride when you see one of your kids concentrated, focussed on producing really good music. She’s 14 years old. She’s really embarrassed about her dad being the minister and that… But I’m just so proud of her – watching her play is one of the most renewing experiences I can describe. Then I thought: I guess this is a pointer to what God feels like, looking at all of us, when we create, concentrate, think, organise, bring things into the world which, without us, would not be there at all.


At 5/22/2005 6:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting to see your contribution to the blog sphere. I shall read with intrepidation and expectation. Love the picture of Rossili. Is it yours?


At 5/22/2005 10:37 PM, Blogger Paul Roberts said...

Yes Graham. I took it on New Year's Day. I was out walking with some of my oldest friends. We all grew up in Swansea, but although we now live all around Europe, we still come back. The wind was very strong (especially up on Rhosilli Down) but the lighting was amazing: the sort you only get in mid-winter.


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