Annalee R. Ward, Ph.D.
Annalee Ward, Professor of Communication, currently serves as the Director of the Wendt Character Initiative at the University of Dubuque. This Initiative promotes excellent moral character and lives of purpose. Passionate about interweaving faith, life, and learning, Annalee is grateful for the work of the Christianity and Communication Studies Network whose work illustrates these interests.
[Note: A version of this article was previously published in a campus newsletter].
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Is 9:2
We have entered the season of antithesis–darkness and light. Experiencing cloud-filled days interspersed with bursts of sunlight, we awaken to dark mornings and watch afternoon light disappear. The melancholy of winter settles in as the cold drives us into growing isolation. Yet the warmth of family and friends creates places of belonging. This dialectical dance makes for moody scenes!
The time on the calendar also dictates a yin and yang that speaks of great hope and great disappointment. Our culture tells us that Christmas is a time of busyness, of joyful present getting and giving, of picture-perfect decorations and cookies, families, and memory-making. But in reality, our struggles to live up to that image often leaving us feeling empty and somehow not quite good enough.
We experience the opposition of light and dark in tangible, physical ways but also in more transcendent realms. What goes on between people in relationships, for example, has led to a dialectic interpersonal communication theory. The challenges exist intrapersonally as well. We are reminded by Paul that “the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:14). Scholars investigating the tensions of antithesis find that bringing together opposites can reveal a clearer picture of truth. Sin exists, but so does grace.
Without this realistic understanding of humanity, people too often feel the pressure to overcome the evil in the world by pursuing goodness through personal effort. Moral character alone, however, will not sustain us in the darkness or the light. While we seek to be people who live lives of integrity, practice justice, and connect with others compassionately, that character needs a telos, an anchor. For Christians, commitment to the one true Light beyond ourselves shows us who we truly are and empowers us to be more than we can be on our own. It overcomes the dialectical tension pointing toward Truth.
This Christmas season, cast your eyes to the Light of Jesus Christ who knows the despair of darkness and whose presence makes “the night shine like the day.” This true Light will not disappear when we make mistakes or fail to live up to standards. For “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:14).
May God’s light shine on us and through us, illuminating the darkness within and around this Christmas season.