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A Hell of Mercy: A Meditation on Depression and the Dark Night of the Soul Hardcover – February 3, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (February 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060825189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060825188
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #384,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The size of this little book—an expanded essay—belies its power. Acclaimed novelist Farrington (The Monk Downstairs) drills deep into his soul to ponder his own lifelong coexistence with depression. It is a meditation: the author lays bare his stream of thoughts, experience, details, a few pretty good jokes and many insights drawn from the consummate spiritual writer on interior darkness, John of the Cross. Farrington is well-read and draws from other writers and artists as well as the Spanish mystic in showing his way through the dark wood. He writes about his slow crawl to regular, functional life with beauty, cleverness, bone-breaking honesty and a deep, hard-won appreciation for the holy. Medications help; faith helps even more, and that costs a lot more than pharmaceuticals ever will. This book may be too unbearable for some who are depressed. For others, it could be a small voice in the darkness and a lifeline for those unsung sufferers living with someone who is depressed. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Novelist Farrington (The Monk Downstairs) offers a wry, almost stream-of-consciousness musing about his struggles with depression throughout a large part of his life. Bordering on a devotional of sorts, the book includes frequent quotations from John of the Cross and many other spiritual writers. Farrington also fills his book with funny anecdotes and jokes that illustrate points he is making. Ultimately, this is a personal diary of one man's journey to the other side of the black chasm of depression. This meditation will be most useful to someone who is facing similar struggles. Farrington's description of the Stations of the Cross for children is alone worth the price of the book. For large public libraries or specialized psychology/self-help collections.—Margaret Cardwell, Memphis
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By scott c on September 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Mixed feelings. First, I've never read a book with such a comprehensive look at the Dark Night of the Soul. Plus, a seemingly exhaustive attempt to discern between the Dark Night and Depression. In the end, as Farrington states, it doesn't really matter.

What I liked was his refusal to try and run from, hide, or evade his dark times in a frightened and reflexive way. It is true that many Americans dabble in light-weight spirituality strictly to ease their pain. Not to deepen, not to learn about themselves or the nature of the universe. Even Time magazine recently had an article debunking a lot of the positive thinking movement and it's claim to make us happier.

While "Darkness Visible" was a blow by blow account of a severe depression, A Hell of Mercy was more a general overview of the author's own dark night and reflections on what the dark night is through various Catholic mystics and Buddhist monks. I didn't come away with any deep understanding of what it felt like for Farrington to go through his dark years. It was more of an attempt to describe depression through the words of others that gave it a more philosophical feel. How close was he to suicide and did he have a plan? What was the final snap that made him decide on medication?

To get inside the depressive mind, I recommend "The Bell Jar", "Darkness Visible" or "Undercurrents." There, one will find the first hand symptoms; long dreary days, social isolation, a feeling of slipping away from everyone and the agony of being depressed and loving the depressed. To get more of a (almost poetic) description of depression, this is a good book to read.

It's hard for me to fault this book because, damn, this guy knows his stuff and he can write.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Beginning with "onset in late adolescence", the author's chronic depression is a formative theme in his life. Rather than embracing the problem as "just chemistry"- with its inherent limitations- Farrington turns to the world's great thinkers and philosophers to explore a deeper concept, "the dark night of the soul". From Christianity to Zen, Kerouac to Augustine and 16th century Spanish Carmelite monk John of the Cross, the author dissects an deliberates, following whatever path yields answers to a complicated and painful condition. After two marriages and some time as a monk, he emerges from this crucible with a wisdom born of personal pain and a willingness to surrender, quoting Joko Beck in Everyday Zen, "Yet enlightenment is not a picture but the shattering of all our pictures." The result is a spiritual journey from darkness to light and everything in between.

Although the road is often unclear, the path through the dark night of the soul is particularly spiritual, small gems of wisdom scattered throughout the text like miniature grenades, sharp bursts of insight. His choice is stated from the first pages: "BF Skinner was all the rage... I was not prepared to consider that my angst could be soothed... through behavioral modification." The spiritual message is frequently profound and elegantly simple: "I learned that the best protection against this pain was to fully accept it." Although the author's comfort is found in Christianity, that discipline is by no means everyman's answer, the spiritual quest as diverse as humanity itself, demanding only the shattering of the ego. While you are in thrall to depression and the dark night, the two remain indistinguishable, it is "only by their fruits- their outcomes- that you can tell them apart.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Deb on November 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In his book _A Hell of Mercy_, author Tim Farrington shares his journey through "the dark night of the soul." After a lifetime of fighting against his depression, Tim ultimately stumbles upon the unexpected light. Moving beyond the defenses of his ego and his insatiable spiritual efforts, Tim concludes that the best protection against the pain of his depression is to fully accept it:
"It is in that surrender, in the embrace of our own perceived futility, paradoxically, that the real freedom comes. But real freedom is terrifying, and real faith is a dance, always on the knife's edge, in unknowing. By grace, we may come to welcome the terrors of that unknowing because they are so much better than the horrors and constant anxiety of the self's small world of delusory accomplishment...But the path to that gratitude and rejoicing passes through some very rough country."

Despite its small size, this book is quite a rich read. If you're looking for a map to escape from the despair of depression, this book will frustrate you. If you're seeking to find comfort and hope that depression is a temporary state that will pass, you best not pick up this book. But, if you're open to finding meaning in suffering and to surrendering to the inherent existential realities of life, you've come to the right place. As Tim realizes, "what is, is ultimately merciful." The light can only be seen when the dark night of the soul is experienced as a hell of mercy--and not of wrath.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mirabai Starr on January 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In this luminous jewel of a book, Tim Farrington manages to make the journey through profound despair look like a cause for celebration. Drawing on the perennial wisdom teachings of the master of fruitful darkness, John of the Cross, Tim invites us to say yes to the Mystery, to say yes to radical unknowingness, and to rest in the fire of emptiness more deeply than we have ever rested in our comfortable illusions about the meaning of life. By holding up his own broken and beautiful life as a model for this holy letting-go, we are given a companion on the path of sacred suffering and transformation -- a man with profound insight, a wicked sense of humor, and that most fragile and dangerous thing of all: faith.

I love this book.
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