Overcoming the Darkness

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

There are lots of things to dislike about winter – the cold, the ice, the snow, the dangerous driving conditions, and the darkness the season imposes upon us. Yes, the darkness.

Lots of people find it really difficult to handle the absence of daylight and the extended darkness of winter. They suffer from a condition termed “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD) that causes them to be anxious and depressed, experience changes in appetite and weight, and makes it difficult to concentrate or sleep. It can be a debilitating condition, not to be taken lightly. Treatment for SAD can include medication, counselling and light therapy.

Light deprivation can be hard enough here in the Northeast, but there are places far worse. I just read about Utqiagvik, Alaska, (formerly known as Barrow) a town situated above the Arctic Circle, where the sun set on November 18 and won’t return until January 23. While there’s minimal, deflected light that appears on the horizon, in fact, during this polar night, the townsfolk won’t see the sun again for 65 days. I don’t know how they do it. They are indeed a “people who walk in darkness.”

This natural phenomenon has a spiritual parallel in salvation history. In the Prophet Isaiah (9:1) we read: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” And of course this text is familiar to those who attend Midnight Mass at Christmas where it’s used to announce the birth of Jesus; to remind us that Jesus is the light who shatters the darkness of the Old Testament and fulfills the longing of the People of Israel. And to emphasize his role, Jesus himself said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.” (Jn 8:12)

When the earth leans away from the sun in the winter, cold and darkness descend upon the land. And when we lean away from God, when we distant ourselves from him by our apathy and sin, our souls grow just as cold, dark and lifeless.

Jesus is the light of the world. If you stay close to him, you never have to fear the darkness again.

Something to think about: Does the darkness of winter affect you? How do you overcome it? Does your closeness to Jesus help you?