As I write this right now I’m sitting in the sun. It’s true. 6:11 a.m. in Wisconsin in December, and I’m drinking my coffee, soaking up the rays. Ah….

I am allowed eight more minutes in the sun, at which point I have to turn off the light box on my kitchen table and get on with my day.

We bought the light because in this house the grownups have S.A.D. issues. Though neither of us has the official diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s clear the issues we have with depression grow worse when the nights grow longer.

There’s an episode of Northern Exposure in which the characters discover these crazy light caps and they want to wear them all the time. I get it now—I have not yet wanted to turn the light off when it’s time. It is intoxicating.

So yes, I’m self-medicating, but this seems more productive than my standard self-meds—caffeine, alcohol, and salty-fatty-sweet-food-of-nearly-any-variety.

[Oops—there. Time’s up. Two minutes over, actually.]

I really identify with (we’re talking seriously resonate with) this quote from Pam Houston, in an essay called “ Breaking the Ice “:
“On September 21 I feel nothing but flat-out panic that we are about to enter the long slide into darkness that feels like an annual survival test. People think June 21 should be a seasonal-affected person’s happiest day, but it’s really joy mixed with trepidation. June 21 may be the beginning of summer, but each day will get a little shorter from then on. March 21 is the only truly joyful day: twelve hours of daylight and nothing but clear sailing ahead.”

But for me, this winter is better already. There may well be a bit of placebo effect going on when I turn on the light, but I don’t care. Even the first day I realized I didn’t feel the need for that second cup of coffee with breakfast (let alone the third or fourth at work), and with less caffeine in my system, I’m sleeping better. My doctor friend Betsy pointed out to me once that caffeine stays in your system 24 hours.

The third day of the light box, I wrote an ode to it:


What Goethe said he wanted, we now have,
My husband emailed me. Not officially
A medical device, and yet I love
It more than Xanax. As if a little box of Italy
Beams up from our table. Just once a day
I sit in front of it, in the morning, first thing.
I never want to turn it off. I want to stay
On the piazza in the sun, emboldening
Myself for normal days of normal strife
And pleasure, days I find so difficult
Sometimes. I’m simply not equipped for life
In winter. Summer makes me gloriously hot
And happy to be alive. When he was about to die,
“More light” is what the poet said. “More light.”

There’s a parallel universe (the one from which Narnia springs) in which I’m a freelance Christian evangelist and author and the title piece of my latest book is Let There Be Light and Less Caffeine. In it I talk about the light box being helpful but my morning devotion ultimately being more helpful. If you live in that parallel universe, please buy that book, because as a freelance evangelist, I depend on the grace of God and the influx of cash from my brothers and sisters in Christ. And buy it from a local bookstore, if you would.

I’m not in that universe, but, even in my current unchurched mode, when I say “light,” I think God. In the Cruden’s Complete Concordance I stole from my Dad years ago (hey—maybe I should buy him a replacement for Christmas—I wonder if they make it for the Kindle….) there are almost 200 references for “light.” When I read the reference

“is a lamp, and the law is l.             Pr 6:23,”

I hear a praise chorus—not sure if it’s something we sang at camp or if it’s from an album—the  Christian pop band Second Chapter of Acts, maybe?

(And here I say a heartfelt thank you Jesus for the blessings of the internets—by the time I figured out that the lead singer for Second Chapter of Acts,  Matthew Ward, looked alarmingly like Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I wasn’t in touch with anyone who would get both references. There aren’t that many people on the planet who would get both references.)

And of course I think of light when I think of Christmas. Wendell and I will be lighting advent candles on Sunday and talking about Jesus and light. We’ve got our tree up, and lights on  our porch. (A student said, “I saw your lights. They look like they’re falling down.” “That’s how we roll,” I told her.)

Speaking of the second chapter of Acts, it is the second chapter of Luke that we usually use for our Christmas story. It’s what Linus quotes from, for example. But it’s the first chapter of John that I need the most, not just at Christmastime, but year-round. (And not just because one of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems begins “The Word made Flesh is seldom, but tremblingly partook.”)

I cling to John 1: 5 this time of year, and somehow the King James Version sounds better than any,  “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” The darkness either didn’t understand the light or couldn’t overcome it, depending on your translation. In the winter up north, either way, that’s good news.


  1. You make S.A.D. sound so lyrical, almost like a Soundscapes album. I’m going to have to seriously look into one of those lights, because it’s taking more and more caffeine to become functional in the morning.

  2. “(And here I say a heartfelt thank you Jesus for the blessings of the internets—by the time I figured out that the lead singer for Second Chapter of Acts, Matthew Ward, looked alarmingly like Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I wasn’t in touch with anyone who would get both references. There aren’t that many people on the planet who would get both references.)”

    Hi Marnie! I *am* that person. Em is too! 🙂

    I loved your ode! I have never pondered S.A.D., but I fear that my amphetamines and caffeine are not sufficient to counter this seasons oppressive darkness.

    I enter my basement office in the dark, and it is almost always dark when I emerge at the end of the day.

    To compensate, I go outside at lunch time, loose the goats, and play shepherd-boy for a half an hour- letting the goats enjoy some much needed freedom while I enjoy the sun- unless it is overcast, cold, windy, and wet- which it WAS NOT today!! Only sunny, cold, and windy. 🙂

  3. Marnie…I miss your creative writing classes…I don’t suffer from S.A.D. as far as I know but here is something I wrote while sitting in a sunbeam I found hiding in the southern part of my school library. “…I missed the sun. So much so that it makes me want to start a bonfire and poor out some libations…” Prof. Klieman’s history lectures are bubbling somewhere in the back of my mind I think…

  4. I, too, have been toying with the light box therapy…for about 5 years! (I am at best, a slow processor) More than your thoughts on the light box, I needed to hear that your morning devotional is even better therapy. I will be thinking about your favorite Christmas verse all season. Here’s one for you: ”Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. “For behold, darkness will cover the earth, And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you, And His glory will appear upon you. “And nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. Isaiah 60:1-3.
    And, if I am indeed one of the few people on the planet to get your Matthew Ward-Riff Raff link, then I am one of the “happy few”! Still laughing 😀

  5. This is fun Marnie, I’m signed up to get a regular serving of what’s in your head. I may be using the ending for Christmas Eve – I’ll plug the blog of course. I love the story, but I’ve become drawn to trying to articulate light and incarnation. I’ve never had a Christmas Eve sermon that wasn’t a snoozer, maybe this year…

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