In less than four hours, our time zone will flip over to 2014. January 1st symbolically holds hopes and fears, energy and trepidation, for many. It is a natural beginning, just as today – the 31st of December – is a natural ending. What have been the flavors of the year past for you, for me? What do we seek in the year about to begin? Is there a cultural message that, whatever it holds, we must pull ourselves along or up or over hurdles or around obstacles with new-year-will-power all on our own? What gives me more will power tomorrow than I had today?
Julie Morgenstern, organizing guru and author, is wise as she writes of organizing our lives being more than re-packaging or re-ordering the contents. In her work, she suggests viewing the present forward as the next chapter of our lives, for which we should determine the key theme. And then we should ‘pack’ for that journey/chapter, letting go of stuff, time commitments and attitudes that don’t match with the theme we are entering. It’s a great bit of wisdom (and may be helpful to some of us to truly re-order, as she puts it, from the inside out).
Though change takes more than a calendar flipping forward, markers llike New Year’s Eve and Day can provide motivation to access our truest desires and see if there can be movement in areas of our lives. This is terrific, and we should all discern these steps – changes for health, for holiness, for wholeness, for virtue, for service, for compassion and solidarity with others. Such discernment can bring us to an awareness of what has not been of sufficient priority in our lives. It’s an end of the holidays-end of the year examen. Can you and I repent?
Through the fountain-fullness of the Word
came the embrace of God’s maternal love,
which nourishes us into life,
is our help in perils,
and — as a most profound and gentle love –
opens us for repentance.
Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias II, 2, 4
* cover art of Hildegard: Prophet of the Classic Christ, Crossroads
On New Year’s Eve, I recommend looking at our lives through the arms of the embrace of God’s maternal love, as described by Hildegard. Only from there can I (and maybe you?) safely contemplate the invitations to change and awareness and maturity and virtue that we need not attempt alone. Spiritual formation and growth is not a western culture individual fix-yourself-up kit. It is seeing from God’s loving view and letting it open us to repentance, and to unending mercy.
It heartens me that Pope Francis’ underlying orientation seems to be toward speaking to our age of mercy. His motto – “Miserando atque eligendo”, meaning lowly but chosen – tells us how he sees himself, and invites us to the same self-seeing. We are lowly. We are chosen. We are seen. We are given mercy over and over, flowing from love.
At the local YMCA, regulars speak about how crazy the locker room area is in January. “But, no worries, it’s just the New Year’s crowd,” quickly follows. “They’ll be gone soon.” Cynical? Maybe. Often accurate to some degree. And it makes me wonder.
Can our thinking about the New Year be rooted in what Hildegard offers us in looking at the Incarnation Mystery? As we rest still by that manger and listen, perhaps we find our rootedness (stable-ity?) in recollecting the fountain-fullness of God’s love which is our help always, and is gentle and profound. Any ‘resolution’ might best find root first in re-knowing (yes, re-collecting!) over and over, through practice, the truth of this vision. We might then be open to a mercy that opens us up to repentance.
Check out these words from Wikipedia on the etymology of repentance/to repent (bold, mine) :
“In the New Testament, the word translated as ‘repentance’ is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), “after/behind one’s mind”, which is a compound word of the preposition ‘meta’ (after, with), and the verb ‘noeo’ (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). In this compound word the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by ‘after’ and ‘different’; so that the whole compound means: ‘to think differently after’. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, “change of mind and heart”, or, “change of consciousness”.
Be with the Holy Family, be with the maternal love of God, be with the baby Jesus, know the love that is the help in all our peril — and THEN see what the ‘after thought’ might be. For some of us, the being with may prove to be the best and most important first step. And telling others of this love, a joyful evangelization. And living it, service and justice. And change may then be more than a January “till we run out of steam” event. It’s not our steam. Our fuel, our food, is the manger, where we feed. It continues in the Eucharist we share. Be fed, and move to after thought, repentance, metanoia only motivated by love. By Love.
Happy New Year’s Eve!