Growing up just 160 miles from the Arctic Circle, it would get very dark in late December. We had as much as 22 and a half hours of darkness per day. The Northern Lights would appear during this cold and dark time of year. We would go outside and watch the Northern Lights “dance” around the sky. You could even hear a humming sound, like florescent lights make. For lights in the cabin we had kerosene lanterns that emitted the light of a 20 watt light bulb (one third the light of a regular bulb). With all this darkness came a rise in depression during this time of year. With the darkest day of the year came the promise that the days would start getting longer. (Six months later we would have 24 hours of sunlight.)
It is difficult for those who don’t live in Alaska to imagine what it is like to live in almost perpetual darkness for about three months of the year or 24 hours of sunlight for three months in the summer. It is also difficult for those who have always known hope to imagine what it is like for others to live with depression and self-destructive thoughts.
According to the Bible, it was the darkest day of the year that hope and light came to a world wrestling with darkness and depression. As worship rates drop in Alaska and around the country we see a rise in depression and suicide rates. There is a connection. Dr. Dervic and five colleagues comment on this connection,
“Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation. … Furthermore, subjects with no religious affiliation perceived fewer reasons for living, particularly fewer moral objections to suicide. In terms of clinical characteristics, religiously unaffiliated subjects had more lifetime impulsivity, aggression, and past substance use disorder. Dr. Dervic…, The American Journal of Psychiatry, “Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt,” Dec. 2004.
I’m not saying that religion is the instant cure for hopelessness and depression, but it sure gives the antidote to hopelessness — hope. You can experience the hope and joy this light brings at one of our many area churches. We will keep a seat available for you (and light on) at Funny River Community Lutheran Church. Hope to see you soon.
Rev. Andy Carlson, Sr. M.Div., has served 23 years in the parish (five of those years were as a Navy/Marine chaplain). He is a Gulf War Veteran. He has served Funny River Community Lutheran Church since 2015. Sunday services are at 11 a.m., followed by a lunch that everyone is invited to. The church is located at 15 Mile Funny River Rd. (Take a right on Rabbit Run and go a ¼ mile to the church). The church website is www.funnyriverlutheran.org.