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In Praise of Darkness
Why is October everyone's favorite month?
For me, October started this year at a beautiful home in Smith Mountain Lake with three friends from seminary. Erika and I were up first and wished each other a happy October. “It’s my favorite month,” she said as we watched rain through a window, and I realized, even though it was a damp and gloomy morning, that I agreed. The leaves and weather are (sometimes) stunning in October, of course; but in church, October tends to be busy. I almost always have weddings and funerals in October, which normally happen on my days off. So why does my heart always leap a little when the calendar turns to October 1?
Celtic people observed Samhain at the end of October/beginning of November, which for them marked the start of the dark half of the year. For the past five years I’ve been getting up at 5 AM to write, so am used to getting up in the dark, and this year I’ve noticed how much I enjoy walking my dog in the dark mornings. I especially like clear mornings when I can look up and see constellations.
I know that some have seasonal affective disorder, and I do not intend to disparage that experience. I’m sure I will be quite tired of the darkness come January and already look forward to the light creeping in a bit earlier every morning and later every evening during that long cold month. For now, though, I am trying to embrace and enjoy the darkness.
At a recent book event here in Richmond for Silas House’s new novel LARK ASCENDING, Silas was asked how he took care of himself while writing such a “dark” book. He replied that he was still recovering. I’ve thought about that answer a lot. His book deals with a dystopian world following climate catastrophe and frightening political upheavals, yet it’s still a hopeful book.
In my MFA program, I wrote an extended critical essay which I just realized I turned in four years ago, in October, about cultural depictions of death and mourning in eight recent memoirs, four by Mexican-American writers and four by Anglo-American writers. I was fascinated by how, in this small sampling, the Mexican-American writers expressed less inhibition when in mourning or facing death than the Anglo-American writers, and in the essay I argued that they were influenced by culturally religious factors, specifically Indigenous expressions and Roman Catholicism, while the Anglo-American writers were influenced by Protestant Christianity. In the paper I expressed my concern that many of us who are influenced by Protestant Christianity have a disembodied understanding of death, especially when we emphasize soul over body.
I’m trying to embrace the darkness of October and the reality of bodies in my own life, learning to live for the past two years from scan to scan for lung cancer. I still get “scanxiety” but am getting better at enjoying and thriving in the time in between. What about you? Do you experience seasonal affective disorder? How do you handle the darkness of these coming months? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
What I’m Reading:
LARK ASCENDING by Silas House: Can’t recommend this one enough. A novel set not too far in the future. One of the characters is a dog. I was petrified about something possibly happening to the dog so set the book aside for a couple of weeks after I started it because I was so worried but managed to pick it back up after seeing Silas speak at a local indie bookstore. Read it. Trust me.
HAVEN by Emma O’Donoghue. I loved THE PULL OF THE STARS so wanted to pick this up as soon as I saw it, especially since it has to do with monks and birds. Intriguing, compelling read with lots to say about the spiritual life and abuse of power.
A NORTHERN LIGHT by Jennifer Donnelly. Last month’s banned-books theme inspired me to pick up this YA novel that describes the same crime Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY was based on, but from another perspective that I had never considered. (I used to collect Theodore Dreiser first editions back in the 1990s. I stopped after I snagged a copy of SISTER CARRIE, the great white whale of Dreiser books, which is rare because it was banned, so had a limited run in 1900.) I enjoyed this book so much that I mentioned it on the retreat with my friends earlier this month, and my friend Erika told me to check out another YA novel, which I have in my toppling TBR pile.
I’m partway through several other books (including that one!) but will wait to list them until I actually finish some. How is it that I haven’t finished more books in October despite the darkness that makes reading extra delicious? I was excited that when I went to pick up a book on hold at the library today to find that two other new ones with long waiting lists were on the “To Hot To Hold” shelf. I love my local library!
What I’m Writing:
This month I finished up a study guide for Forward Movement’s Good Book Club on the biblical books of Ruth and Easter and will offer a link when the Good Book Club starts up in January. I also finished copyedits for UNEXPECTED ABUNDANCE: THE FRUITFUL LIVES OF WOMEN WITHOUT CHILDREN. I promise I will provide a preorder link when it’s ready. (I do have a publication date: August 22, 2023.) I’m reading a book for review for Christian Century, and of course I’m working on my upcoming book of irreverent prayers with Samantha Vincent-Alexander. But all I have to offer you this month is sermons:
The Rich Man and Lazarus. We’re building a Little Free Library at St. David’s!
Seek the Welfare of Babylon. Not what God’s people wanted to hear.
Prayer and the Persistent Widow. Someone called my delivery of this sermon “emotional.” You’ve been warned. (Also, I think getting emotional about God, miracles, and prayers is an excellent sign.)