A Reading Life (prt 12): An Impasse and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Image result for lucy psychiatric booth christmas

By Joe LaGuardia

A Reading Life is a blog series focused on the literature that has shaped my life and call to ministry. Find the introduction here.

I must apologize, everyone. I have not been in the mood to read or write lately. I blame it on the recliner and cold weather. My cat may be in on this too.

Its been an arid month: no inspiration to read anything, no impetus to write. I had an existential crisis just today: How come I don’t feel like reading? What about my “A Reading Life” blog series?

It was just, “Meh.” I suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder when I lived in the north, but haven’t since I moved south. This is nowhere near as bad, but I have a feeling that people who do suffer with SAD during winter can relate. Where has all that passion gone?

Now I just sit in my recliner when I am not cleaning, exercising, playing, cooking, or doing churchy things. I read a devotional. I catch up on the news. I (gag) scroll through social media. I fall asleep with my cat on my lap, a cat who finds her way over to me whenever I am in a resting position.

This is not new for me just as I’m sure it inflicts other bibliophiles. You’re in between books. You pick up a book here or there and nothing really captures your heart. There are false starts and impassioned leafing through of pages. No titles catch your attention. You wonder why half the books on your “to read” pile are there in the first place.

Even the old love affair with book catalogues grows stale, and your eyes wander to other things. I started watching a lot more television. That’s always a bad sign.

I don’t know how it is for others, but for me, reading and writing go hand-in-hand. If I am reading a lot then I tend to write a lot. If my reading tarries, my writing dries up. The muses fall silent. The Television turns on, and it is a distraction.

I decided today that I must move on. I can’t stay in this malaise forever, and I need something to get out of this rut. We went to our local used-book store (a weekly routine), and I determined to find something to read.

Sure enough, I returned to that genre that has saved me on more than one occasion: long-form essays, usually in the tune of a memoir or travel narrative, which have appealed to me during times of melancholy. They are short so there is no serious commitment. They are not laborious, so they tend to be compelling and artistic. They inform, but are personal enough to get me out of myself–to move my sense of consciousness beyond my little world and into the larger world where life moves on.

Essays have always been an easy and quick escape in my reading repertoire. There are essays by Marilyn Robinson and Annie Dillard. There are anthologies, such as the annual The Greatest Essays publications. Several years ago I picked up This is New York by E. B. White, an essay that originally appeared in a travel magazine. That was SOME essay–an amazing tapestry of words and thoughts, and probably one of the best things I’ve ever read in my life.

It took me a while to find the right book. I perused travel, biographies, classics, mysteries, and the religious sections. I was tired, so I sat in a plastic lawn chair among the memoirs. I spotted an autobiography by Ephriam Tutt, Yankee Lawyer. I don’t know who Tutt is, but the inscription on the inside was to an “Uncle Harry” and dated Christmas day, 1943.

Parker Palmer’s Listen to Your Life was nearby, and it too had an inscription from Jen to Mitch: “Food for thought along your vocational journey.” It was dated January 25, 2002. Not quite Christmas day, but close.

I spotted some books I donated several months ago. I picked up several of them and saw my own notes throughout their pages. It is odd to see your handwriting in a book that is for sale, as if it was inscribed by some alien life force and is now staring back at you from across the galaxy. (If you go to the religion section and you find the print “The Library of J. V. LaGuardia”, wonder no more.)

And, back in the memoir section, I finally found a book worth reading. It is an essay just as I preferred, and published originally in Vanity Fair or some such magazine. It is by Pulitzer-prize winning novelist William Styron, Darkness Visible, about his bout with clinical depression. The subtitle (“A memoir of madness”) did not catch my attention so much as the writing did; and I didn’t get it because of my own lethargy. I got it because of its brevity and its well-written prose. It will do.

I realize now that my feelings of lassitude is not uncommon around this time of year. Many people get a little angst around the holidays. Charlie Brown bemoans of his own existential crisis to Lucy (psychiatric help for a nickel!) in the Christmas special my children and I watched earlier today.

But ’tis the season, and books will always find a way to speak into our lives. We will eventually move off the recliner and into worlds that words construct or conjure. It takes some time, and in only a few days that Christ Light will shine in the darkness of all our nights. And, eventually, this too shall pass.

They say, “Peace, peace,” when there is none to be found

By Joe LaGuardia

This Christmas Eve, as Trinity and so many other churches gather for candlelight services to celebrate Christ’s birthday, we will likely sing about the peace that accompanies Christmas.

The song, “Silent Night, Holy Night,”will woo our beloved baby Jesus to “sleep in heavenly peace.”  And “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” will encourage us to rightly “hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.”

The next morning, as my children open their long-awaited gifts and I cook my lasagna for the mid-afternoon meal, it will be a memorable time of celebration and joy.

Yet, in the midst of such celebration, we cannot forget that we live in a world ridden with conflict.  In fact, many Christians around the world will not enjoy the same kind of Christmas experience as we.

Take Nigeria as just one example of a place in which hardships are facing Christians.

Nigeria is a diverse nation that has long enjoyed some semblance of peace among neighbors and inter-faith communities.

One of the largest Christian communities there is the Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa of Nigeria (EYN), a contingent of the Church of the Brethren (a small, Germanic-born Protestant movement as old as the Reformation).

For years, the EYN have opened grade-schools, seminaries, clinics, social service organizations, and other relief communities.

In the last year, however, the EYN, among other Christian and Muslim communities, have come under attack by the radical Boko Haram movement, which made the news recently for kidnapping some 200 school girls.

According to the Church of the Brethren website, some 500 Brethren women and children have been kidnapped, over 3000 members have been killed, and nearly 100,000 have been displaced.

According to another report, Boko Haram seized the EYN headquarters and a partnering seminary as of October.

Many refugees are finding solace in Jos, Nigeria, the location of one of our local missionary’s place of ministry (missionary, Melanie Martin, once taught at nearby Honey Creek Elementary School) .  They are regrouping there in search of relief, shelter, and medical supplies.

This means that while I am figuring out how to perfect my lasagna on Christmas day, thousands of families will have nothing to eat.

No one likes getting bad news on Christmas.  Even relief organizations in our own country provide “the least of these” with enough resources to have a blessed Christmas.

And we should.  But we also should not deny that our privilege as a people sometimes blinds us to the needs beyond our borders.

We don’t know what its like to have our children kidnapped or our families displaced.  We don’t know what its like to lose our land and make a pilgrimage across country without adequate drinking water.

The birth of the Prince of Peace in our lives does not deny this fact.  Rather, the Prince of Peace’s birthday shines a spotlight on the plight of humankind and confronts our response to it.

God gave us Jesus to have life, but God also gave us Jesus to provide light and life to others who are in need.  Unfortunately, we spend so much time complaining about what we don’t have or what we want, we forget that much of what we do have is taken for granted.

This Christmas do not neglect the needs of people around the world who have yet to experience true peace.  We may sing about it, but it will take a commitment from all of us–be it through giving money or serving overseas–to make peace a reality where peace is hard to find.

In related news: Praise God for Discover Point Church and so many other churches who are providing meals to needy families in our county this season.  DP is feeding hundreds of families on Christmas day, challenging volunteers to spend Christmas serving others rather than serving themselves.  We are proud to partner with DP in providing kitchen facilities necessary for accommodating the crowd.

If you are interested in helping with the Nigerian Brethren crisis, please contact Roy Winter at rwinter@brethren.org or visit the Brethren website for more information on how to serve or to give.