The word “shadow” has sixteen definitions or shades of meaning in my dictionary. One of them is simply “darkness.” In turn, darkness has a number of different nuances. The natural physical darkness of night is both an invitation and a facilitator for our bodies to rest. But that same night-darkness is feared by my young daughter, making many nights uncomfortable and unrestful, leaving me exhausted at dawn. This weariness then makes me vulnerable to the darkness of depression, which seems always to hover nearby, ready to seep in through any crack in my defenses. A friend of mine, who understands this struggle well, refers to depression as “the shadow.”
I’ve gradually become aware, the past few years, that the depression which assails me has a component of seasonal affective disorder – these darker days and longer nights of winter take a vague but noticeable toll on me.
Yet, in my heightened awareness at this season, I have found unexpected, sometimes startling, redemptive ways of looking at darkness. T.S. Eliot says to let “the darkness of God” come upon you. C.S. Lewis’s hero Ransom finds the darkness on Perelandra dense with the presence, the spirit of God. George MacDonald notes that “all things seem rushing straight into the dark, but the dark still is God.” And, as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Samwise Gamgee realizes, looking up out of the forsaken land, a star shines most brightly against the darkest sky.