The Place we Are & the Place we Were – Thoughts for a New Year
Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3, Psalm 148, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40
Sunday December 31, 2017 – The 1st Sunday of Christmas
Knox-Metropolitan United Church – Regina, SK – Treaty 4 Territory
There’s a funny relationship between the 31st day of December and the 1st day of January, isn’t there?
Perhaps one indicative of our sometimes confounding relationship to time.
Tomorrow we find ourselves in January, named for Janus, the two faced Roman God of doorways, transitions, and new beginnings – two faces with one looking back into the past, and the other looking forward into the future.
The forecast is calling for a high of 13 degrees, slightly cloudy with plenty of sunny breaks today in Rome, which is where the Calendar we use today emerged first under Julius Caesar, later to be refined Pope Gregory in the 1500s, so in that sort of climate perhaps this time of year feels like one rich with possibility of change and development, while to the contrary, in much of the Northern Hemisphere, perhaps this feels like a time for hibernation, for turning in on oneself rather than a time to engage with the world around us in new ways.
Yet that’s often the task we set before ourselves.
Not sure if there are any Resolution Makers here this morning (not going to ask you what you’ve resolved to do, and certainly won’t ask you again in a month or so about how it is going).
I wish you well.
Perhaps there are those, who like me, have from time to time, sought to use this moment as an opportunity for intention, yet have found that while the world around crossed from one year to the next, that you remained the same, as you once were.
Resolutions can be exciting and empowering, and they can be discouraging – and change is hard.
The late poet and theologian John O’Donahue whose words opened our service, likes to use the term threshold…
I think a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit, and I think that very often how we cross is the key thing…And I think when we cross a new threshold that if we cross worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere. And in our crossing then we cross on to new ground where we just don’t repeat what we’ve been through in the last place we were. So I think beauty in that sense is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.
Crossing worthily to heal patterns of repetition that had us caught somewhere, finding ourselves on new ground in which we don’t just report what we’ve been through in the last place we were.
What a lovely way of putting it.
Our reading today from the Gospels offer’s one version of the story that comes after the nativity – after the Angelic announcements, after the journey to Bethlehem, after the birth in a stable, after the visits from the Shepherds – in this version from the Gospel of Luke, there are simply things to do – cultural and religious traditions to be followed, a name to be given, and a visit to the Temple in Jerusalem to be planned.
A few days after Lily was born, after the late night realization that Cheryl was in labour, after the frantic search for the stuff we needed to take with us, after the drive to the hospital, after the flood of midwives, and medical practitioners, we simply walked up to a desk, showed the nurse on duty that we had a CSA approved carseat and we and drove home—narratively it seemed hugely anti-climactic.
There’s this moment just at the beginning of the reading, after the Shepherds have shared the things told to them by the Angels, the narrative states that:
…all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
I know that I have shared this before, so for those who have heard it I pray you’ll indulge my repetition, but neuroscientists have recently noted that while negativity – a negative comment, discouraging email, a harsh word, self-critique – is immediately imprinted upon the human brain while beauty, encouragement and the like takes 15 seconds of deliberate, mindful, attention otherwise it slips off us like Teflon.
But when treasured, when held close, when pondered in our hearts (or minds), it can change the way we think, respond, react.
I think that there are all sorts of interesting things happening in the reading today, but as we stand upon a threshold of a new calendar year, a new formulation of our family, or any number of other change that we may face, I am drawn to Mary’s simple example.
The text says nothing about 15 seconds, but if it did, that, for references sake, would feel like this…
O’Donahue suggests…that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.
I believe that this is what O’Donahue is hinting at when he suggests that in learning to cross a threshold from one way of being into another is to be invited into a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.
Ask me someday about how we, as generations of Jewish and Christian mystics have before, might re-read the traditional interpretation of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the light of this path of imagining.
In the Christian Tradition, if Advent is about waiting for Emmanuel, God with us, the Epiphany (which we mark until Ash Wednesday and Lent) is about attending to God within us —and pondering how the two relate, solidarity and inner recognition, and how this might guide all our relations.
With the flip of a page on a calendar suddenly we are in a new year.
And in any and many moments, life renames us again and again…calling us now spouse or parent, or perhaps as ex, as widow, as formerly this or that, and we face anew the task of becoming.
Of course none of this is easy work, no one Sunday morning reflection can name all that may be encompassed, and 15 seconds of attention is but a tool, but perhaps a reminder of the need to attend to the world within, however we do so, be it meditation and prayer, conversation, therapy, and so much more —an invitation to an inner attentiveness that is easily lost.
Mary reminds of the need to reconnect, to come home to ourselves, and O’Donahue reminds of the beckoning call of beauty to guide us over the threshold wherein time can be a bully, and time can be midwife time can be transfiguration.
And in life, in death, in life beyond death. God is with us.
We are not Alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Quotes from John O’Donahue taken from:
John O’Donahue “The Inner Landscape of Being” On Being with Krista Tippet, August 6, 2015
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