Spirit Matters: The light continues to shine in the darkness

Jerrilyn Zavada

When I was a young adult, September was my favorite month.

If you remember September 11, 2001; and that crisp, clear, sunny morning, as well as that crisp, clear, sunny – but remarkably silent – evening is indelibly imprinted on your soul, then you can understand why.

The horrendous events of that day notwithstanding, the weather in this part of the nation, to me, was quintessential September. Its vibe spoke to my soul before that infamous day, and still does today.

It is no longer August with its often consistently sultry, uncomfortable days.

And, although I cherish October and November equally as much, but for different reasons, September is cool and comfortable.

It is a nice transition from the carefree days of summer to the dying off that autumn requires, and its colder, darker days and nights.

Almost as though Divine Wisdom is allowing us a grace period to acclimate to seasonal reality at 40 degrees North Latitude.

Since that fateful Tuesday morning nearly 22 years ago, many months have come and gone, and many seasons have changed.

With more life experience under my belt, nearly every month of the year has wormed its way into my sentimental heart, the way September did at that time.

Except for maybe January.

I still don’t have a real fondness for that cold, dark, empty and endless month.

Although I admit, in recent years, a few cracks have broken in the ice of my dislike for it.

For quite some time, I have looked forward to January 24, as it is the memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers, journalists and authors. I credit him (among others) with praying me along my aspirational journey to be a writer.

St. Francis de Sales is recognized for his gentle spirit and his devotion to the Sacred Heart, or, to put it more simply, the Love that is the substance of All That Is.

January 24 is also the birthday of the late spiritual writer Henri Nouwen, whose prolific work centered on the Heart of the Divine, and the perennial flow of love that springs from it. Nouwen’s writings have greatly influenced me, both in my personal spirituality and in my own writing.

Nouwen gave up his lifestyle as a noted professor at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard, to live in community with people with intellectual disabilities at L’Arche Daybreak in Canada. One of his books, “Adam” chronicles Nouwen’s daily caregiving for a young man with differing abilities, and how Adam taught Nouwen spiritual lessons about God, and about himself.

Nouwen also wrote “The Inner Voice of Love,” a collection of missives he wrote to himself in the midst of deep clinical depression. The humility with which he wrote during those dark times of confusion and hopelessness – which I know firsthand can be brutal – spoke luminously to me when I most needed it.

It is interesting to note that Nouwen and I share these two things in common: having worked with people with disabilities and having experienced profound spiritual darkness. It is impossible for either of these experiences to not leave a deep, lasting impression on someone’s heart. In this way, Nouwen has been a spiritual mentor for me, across the veil that now separates us.

Celebrating St. Francis de Sales and Henri Nouwen and the impact they continue to have on my life makes the whole month of January worthwhile.

Remembering them casts a bright, warm light in the midst of the profusely dark and cold days and nights of January.

In a similar way the gentle, cool breeze in a Midwest camp for people with disabilities comforted me on a dark, cold September day in the annals of U.S. history.

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada Novak at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.