By Fr. George Berendt, PIME
(See Isaiah 8: 23-9:3; 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17; and Mt 4: 12-23)
Alaska is one of America’s most beautiful and breathtaking states. It is huge, rich in scenic beauty, blessed with abundant land and ocean resources. Yet, in spite of the beauty that this biggest of our 50 states is blessed with, there is a dark side to Alaska.
A missionary sister, whom I knew and is now deceased, worked in Alaska for a good part of her religious life. I met her when I was working at PIME’s parish in Los Angeles. She came to give our parish’s mission club a presentation about her work in the Great White North.
After her presentation she hung around the rectory with me for a while and as we shared some tea and cookies she told me about the “dark side” of this beautiful patch of real estate we bought for a song from the Russians.
During our counter top conversation that evening she told me that the hardest times during the Alaskan year for her was when the polar darkness set in. Anyone who knows anything about Alaska knows that in the northern reaches of the state, in the frigid, winter months, the sun sets and a deep, dreary darkness settles over the land for months on end. As the sun vanishes, gradually the psyche of many people who live in this darkened environment is altered in a negative way. The long months of darkness and the absence of natural light affects many who live there.
Sister told me that during the “dark months” the suicide rate goes up, alcoholism and drug abuse increases, family violence become epidemic and the number of divorces increases. The lack of daylight and the long, drawn out, dark days seem to have a powerful effect on the lives of the people she serves.
Even down here in the southern, tropical regions of Michigan we suffer from a winter disorder called SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Even though we still have the sun, our Great Lakes’ winter with its gray, overcast days, long, cold, dark nights, and early sunsets and late sunrises causes cabin fever. We get the itch to escape our balmy Great Lakes Region and flee to where the papaya and pineapple grow for the taking and the citrus drops from the tree tops into our laps. The winter urge to put our feet in the white sands of a warmer current than Lake Michigan is strong indeed. Ah, palm tree vistas and Margaritaville!
The sun and the light it creates have a very powerful influence on human life. It influences our moods, disposition and humor. The light of the sun influences our rising and sleeping – something scientists call the circadian rhythm, i.e., our “biological clock.” It’s amazing the power and influence the light of the sun has on our lives. When it is absent, we crave it ever more.
Today the prophet Isaiah tells us that “the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” Light and darkness have always been the “yin” and the “yang” in the language of those who speak about spirituality. Light illuminates the paths a righteous and upright person should walk if he or she desires to follow the right path as outlined by God. Those who embrace the darkness end up going astray and find themselves lost and forlorn down false paths. Light is always seen as something positive in the life of a disciple while darkness is seen as being the Devil’s best friend.
Two thousand years ago a great light shone down upon our world in the guise of Jesus the Christ who told us that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Through Jesus, the Holy Trinity has shone the light of salvation on our world and indicated a path that those who seek eternal life should follow as best as they can. Jesus has illuminated the path one should follow.
Nevertheless, in spite of that great light that has shone down upon us; many sadly prefer to embrace the various forms of darkness that devastate personal lives, distress families and upset society. Even today too many people prefer to embrace the darkness and reject the light.
I wonder why the darkness of drug addiction and alcohol misuse is more appealing than a clean and sober lifestyle to many of our young brothers and sisters.
Why is a voyeuristic enjoyment of internet pornography at epidemic levels? Why are humans seen as objects to be used for selfish, personal gratification?
Why are the darkness of gang affiliation and its subculture of violence, drugs, guns, sexual promiscuity and mayhem so enticing to many young people as they are beginning their lives?
What is the allure that entangles our financial leaders in economic intrigues, disrupting financial security in our country and around the world, and upsetting the lives of people they will never know, destroying their retirement and financial security?
What do our politicians gain to give more benefits to their supporters and backers and those who are wealthy? What makes them eager to take away the safety net from so many who are on the bottom? Why is “the common good” a concept that is now relegated to the corner?
How dark must our society be that it is willing to discard an unborn baby, deny health care to those who don’t have it for a political philosophy, refuse to pay a living wage to workers who work full time in a service job, or relegate inner city kids to a second class education?
Since none of us is perfect all of us here suffer from a “spiritual SAD.” All are made of the weakened and fetid flesh of Adam and Eve, and each of us must contend with a personal “dark side” in our lives. The hope is that none here have gone over to this dark side completely and allowed it to envelope us, blocking out the divine light all together.
We struggle with our predilections and weaknesses like every fallen human being, yet the light that leads us on is still always before our eyes. As we struggle with the darkness of our own lives, we live in a world that still seems willing to embrace the darkness. We see it in the news every day. That is why Plato could say that we could forgive a child who was afraid of the dark but have to pity more the adult who fears the light.
I would like to conclude with a piece of advice from Dag Hammarskjold. In his book entitled Markings (p.56) he wrote: “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illuminated by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.”
Embrace the divine light that pours down upon us!