What drove me to this church began with a deep funk that began more than a year ago.
I had just come off a severe sickness when I woke up one morning feeling that invisible weight of depression. I’ll be honest, I have struggled with depression for most of my life. There have been ebbs and flows over the years, but this latest episode just crushed me. Maybe what made it so brutal this time around was unrequited grief.
Over a span of about three years last decade, I lost my mother, sister and our twins in a miscarriage. I thought I has shouldered through the darkness for the last several years. But I was wrong. I still carried my dead with me. My heart was on the anvil. It felt like those hammer blows were either going to break me, or reshape me.
During the worst of it, I lost my church. People who I believed were like a family to me. But as I slipped deeper into the depression, that first couple of Sundays without going to church soon bled into an absence lasting months; an absence that failed to inspire any outreach from the church leadership.
Eventually, a friend from that congregation asked me why I didn’t ‘reach out’ to them during the worst of the depression. But all I could think was, how do ‘you reach out’ when you’re hanging on by your fingernails? Whatever the body of Christ is, depression left me feeling like a blemish on its skin.
I would have otherwise walked away from church if it had not been for that faith project. It was the tether keeping moored in a pitch-black tempest, even when I’d walk into an empty church in some foreign country and sit on the back pew to talk to God in the silence.
From the hot lands of Beasley Texas to the rugged north of Welsh-speaking Wales, photography has become that doorway out of the darkness. Each image has been an act of revelation in some form or another. Every act kindness from all the congregations I’ve visited, every tiny morsel of fellowship offered to me by my fellow sojourners has tasted as sumptuous as a feast in this wilderness. Maybe that’s what the “body” is…
I use the story about the Indian girl in the cotton-belt church because her simple act of kindness touched me at a very tough moment in my life. It felt like my soul was on the knife-edge of reality.
Below me was the abyss.
I can’t say enough about the simple acts of kindness from all the Anglicans, Catholics and Charismatic churches that opened their doors to me. I’m indebted to my unbelieving friends who went with me on some of these photo expeditions in the English countryside and Wales. So, there you go. I guess God has his way of doing things.
That Indian congregation where the girl in blue greeted me, asked me to break bread with them in a traditional meal after mass.
I felt welcome that day.
Some months later, a tiny Jewish congregation in remote Suriname offered me bread and salt after their Sabbath service. A congregation originally founded by the Jews who fled Portugal and Spain in the 17th century.
I walked back to my hotel that night, the taste of salt on my lips.
In Georgetown, Guyana, three young women posed for me as the afternoon sun poured through the tall stain-glass windows in the back of a church.
They sat on the stairs so that I could take pictures.
In Mexico, Jose Luis Lopez, a church warden at Catedral de Porta Coeli, or the Church of the Gate of Heaven (of the Greek-Melkite rite) welcomed me in his sanctuary on a chilly winter afternoon with these simple words:
“You are welcome here.
Our church is your church too.”
John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
D I G D E E P E R
Tom Darin Liskey
Tom Darin Liskey is an author, poet and photo-journalist. More than twenty years of international journalism and business experience gives Tom a unique perspective. That experience abroad has given him a keen eye to appreciate different cultures and locations. His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry has been published in literary magazines, both in the US and abroad including two published books.
This article appeared originally in Change Seven literary magazine.
All images © Tom Darin Liskey