ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Griggs, PELICAN IN THE WILDERNESS, 2014

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jun• 10•14

CASCADE_TemplateGriggs, Robert W. A Pelican of the Wilderness. Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014.

This is not an academic book and thus doesn’t really qualify to be reviewed on this site! However, this is a book that every academic should read! This is about a pastor who holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School, University of Minnesota and Andover Newton Theological School who suffered severe depression to the extent of attempting suicide. So, this is a ‘must-read’ for all academics for a reality check and see where they are heading. There is a second reason for reading this book. In this autobiographical account Griggs has woven his academic knowledge and personal experience into a beautiful fabric. That is what makes Walter Brueggemann comment on the blurb that, ‘Robert Griggs has deftly transported them (the Psalms) into his own story of depression, anguish, and recovery of health, life, and faith.’

This is not just about Psalms. As the title indicates Griggs tells us how many contemporary American films helped him in his recovery. Thus he benefited from two resources that is available to all of us. The ancient text of the Psalms still maintain the power to help us cope with our present day realities of pain and joy. Then there is quite a lot of wisdom in the contemporary world as well. This comes in the form of books that interpret for us the modern society, culture and religion. Griggs has compiled a very useful bibliography as well as a filmography—a list of films that helped him.

With all the degrees and experience of serving the same church as pastor for twenty-six years Robert Griggs had lot of knowledge and helped a lot of people. However, he discovered in the Psych Unit that he is dried up—literally, because the chemicals that help people to keep their balance (like Serotonin and Norepinephrine) had dried up in his brain. These had to be replenished through rest and medications. He had to be trained to cope with life with the help of his doctors and fellow inmates over a period of five weeks that he was in the ‘loony bin.’ He had to readmitted for another week because he seems to have ignored the lessons he learnt.

In his depression he was like a ‘pelican in the wilderness’ (Psalm 102:6). He borrows the language of the Psalms to understand and cope with his situation. And he comes out of it finally as the prophetic fulfilment of the words of another psalmist: ‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy’ (Psalm 126:5). In the process of narrating his story Griggs also helps us to understand the importance of making choices, struggles with issues of faith, hope etc. This story aptly illustrates what Brueggeman describes as ‘disorientation’ and ‘reorientation’ in the Book of Psalms: ‘From Pulpit to Psych Unit’ (first chapter) and ‘From Psych Unit to Pulpit’ (last chapter). For any academic this gives a very useful, helpful break from the daily encounter with the ‘heavy stuff.’