We may joke about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but it affects up to 15 percent of the population. Readers of C. S. Lewis might see SAD as more than a laughing matter. It could be one of many “signals of transcendence” that point to a greater reality.
SAD is a topic of conversation around the Winter Solstice (December 21 this year). It should warm our hearts to know we’re past the shortest day of sunlight in the Northern hemisphere. Those affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder don’t feel that way, however. They suffer depression. SAD affects brain hormones and function, causing fatigue, an increased need for sleep, and cravings for carbohydrates as well as weight gain. It’s a sad state of affairs for about 15 percent of the Northern population.
For the other 85 percent, SAD can sound rather silly. Some of the skepticism is based in SAD being a relatively recent disorder, only officially recognized in the 1980s. Some is due to male sexism. Women are up to eight times as likely as men to have SAD.1 Insensitive men shrug off SAD as afflicting wimpy women.
There might be another way to see SAD. C. S. Lewis saw winter as a metaphor for humanity’s fall. Lewis lived in the Northern Hemisphere, England, where winter can be rather drab, damp, dark, and cold. In his book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the White Witch froze Narnia in the Hundred Years Winter where it’s “always winter but never Christmas.” Spring arrived when Aslan came in sight.
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.
The renewal of Narnia begins as the snowy kingdom melts. Edmund, captured by the White Witch, realizes her powers are declining. “The snow which splashed against them as they rushed through it was much wetter than it had been last night… there were streams chattering, bubbling, splashing and even (in the distance) roaring. His heart gave a great leap (though he hardly knew why) when he realised that the frost was over.”
Within five minutes, “patches of green grass and green tree-branches were beginning to appear throughout the forest. And much nearer there was a drip-drip-drip from the branches of all the trees.” Edmund “noticed a dozen crocuses growing around the foot of an old tree – gold and purple and white.” Sunny days were here. Narnia was saved.
Lewis pictured his salvation in similar terms. In Surprised by Joy: the Shape of My Early Life, he describes the last stage of his religious conversion as snow melting. As Lewis sat in a bus at the top of Headington Hill, he “felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. The melting was starting in my back – drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle. I rather disliked the feeling.” Lewis disliked it because his conversion included “no strain of music from within, no smell of eternal orchards at the threshold.” He was being “dragged through the doorway. No kind of desire was present at all.” God was melting Lewis’ heart, like the snow melting in spring.
Later, in God in the Dock, Lewis would add, “There is, of course, this difference, that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not. We can. We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on into those ‘high mid-summer pomps’ in which our Leader, the Son of man, already dwells, and to which He is calling us. It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.”2
You might find Lewis a bit whimsical, but whimsy is a welcome respite to the cold dark days of winter. We don’t know what winter felt like in creation, only that God created seasons (Gen.1:14). We do know Adam and Eve were created naked, so it’s likely the garden was warm and sunny. If this is the case, SAD could be a “signal” that the human race is not well suited for dark, wintry days and that something has gone awry.
The imminent sociologist Peter Berger says we receive “signals of transcendence” – human experiences that seem to point to a greater reality. They are universal, instinctive; yet assume and require answers that lie beyond themselves.3 SAD might be one of those universal signals, even if all individuals are not affected. It can be a pointer. If so, SAD might be pointing to the return of the King.
2 C. S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans, 1970), 87-88.
3 Peter L. Berger, A Rumor of Angels (Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1990), 59-65.