please open the curtains, she says.
that’s the last line from a play named 4.48 Psychosis by a playwright named Sarah Kane. It’s not so much about depression as it is words from the inside of it.
It’s subjective and brutal, as most of Kane’s plays are. It’s hard to read if you’re easily triggered by strong emotions and talk of suicide (so this is your trigger warning). It drags you through the entrails and clinical lists and bloody remains of Kane’s brain as she scoops them out and smears them across the page in twenty four sections, driving you through corridors that narrow rapidly with rage and grief and agony. It reads like a full-blown experience of highly lucid anguish and loss. It circles death and longing and the intensity of light and dark and the voices of the Bible and the tongues of medical professionals in the same thick red pen that is a knife dragged through skin and I read it because how can I not?
How can I not? This is the language of Advent, too. This is the language of longing at its most brutal, at its least hopeful and most despairing. This is the hard language of Advent when you know you’re lost, where hunger is a vacuum that aches and claws at the insides without cessation. It’s a deep aching for rest, for an end to pain, for silence, for peace. This kind of hunger says come back soon, cries help me, says please open the curtains with absolutely no belief that the curtains aren’t nailed to the window-frame, that the curtains have anything to open onto. And yet it still craves, impossibly, desperately, wanting despite everything. It hungers with its whole self, knowing even as it asks that no-one will open the curtains, that there is no-one there to open the curtains, that the curtains don’t open and yet it still asks.
what are we to do with this kind of longing? what are we to do with this kind of language?
please open the curtains, Kane says. It’s the last line of the play. To me, it sounds a little bit like Jesus come back soon in that both are ways of saying help me, do something, except that we’re not entirely sure who Kane is addressing. I’m not entirely sure Kane knew who she was addressing either. Us, maybe. The audience. But this is her last play and she never saw it performed. As one critic says, it’s a 75 minute suicide note.
I don’t really know how to talk about any of this, except to say that I don’t think there are many desires more desperate, more stripped of illusions of sufficiency than this. There are few other longings that truly acknowledge where we are.
See, I know that Advent is where we talk about how Jesus came to be with us, how he came to live among us in order to answer that hunger with the bread that is himself, in order to rip that curtain wide open to let the light flood in. I know we speak of how he’ll come back again and how the bright wind will throw apart all our windows and doors with feasting and dancing and rejoicing, spilling laughter through the streets of a new city. But between these two true things we’re here, stumbling through this vast and patchy dark and crying out, wordless and anguished, craving so fiercely these things we can’t understand, knowing only the lack of them in our bodies. Here, where Christ’s Spirit cries out within us and yet we still feel so much like orphans, abandoned and bereft. Here, where we want so much, and yet sometimes are given so little.
I do honestly believe we are met in this space of wanting. I do believe there is rest and healing and tenderness and answer, even in this doorway between the going and coming back of Jesus who is ours, who became ours for the sake of our hunger and thirst. I have seen his Spirit welling up like quiet water in the gaps and cracks, because even here between his rebirth and ours we are given green fields and cool water and silence, kind hands and a sky so wide you could lose yourself in it, flecked with the impossible floating of birds. Rest, even here.
But even given the perfecting work of a Triune God, the good gift of the Father that is the absent presence of his beloved Son, whose loving Spirit comforts and transforms us into his likeness, this kind of pain and hunger is something we cannot, should not, avoid or ignore. It’s something we cannot forget or have easy answers for. Because we were answered. It was finished. And yet here we still are, hurting.
So I’m going to leave you with this song by Andrew Peterson.
Or silence. Sometimes silence works too.