In these opening days of this new year, I find myself reflecting on endings and beginnings.
From one perspective, there is no such thing as endings or beginnings. Life is always in the process of flowing and becoming. Celebrating the transition from one year to the next on Jan. 1 is a completely arbitrary designation. It’s just when someone decided that our calendar should begin.
There are other calendars that mark time differently. But from another perspective, marking such moments and pondering endings and beginnings is a profoundly human thing to do. We are finite creatures and one of the ways in which we make sense of our lives is by reflecting on where we’ve been and dreaming of where we’re headed. We find the strength to keep going by believing that tomorrow might be better than yesterday.
So it is that here in the first few days of 2021 many of us are spending some time looking back at the year so recently gone and trying to sort through what just happened to us. The pandemic turned our world upside so quickly that it can be difficult to remember a time before masks, and social distancing, and self-quarantining. Grief at the sheer magnitude of the loss, not only of life but of a way of life, is really only beginning to be realized.
Then there was the added trauma of the social and political turmoil and upheaval which broke the surface of our awareness and swept across our country and our world. The world as we once thought we understood it has changed right before our eyes. As a new year dawns it is no wonder that we find ourselves hoping for a new beginning and a better tomorrow.
How do we keep going? Where do we find the strength to step into each new moment? What inspires us to trust that there is light beyond the darkness? I write these words as a pastor who is serving a Christian congregation, so for me at least part of the answer to such questions is found in the long history of the Judeo-Christian faith tradition.
Over the past many centuries there have been countless people who have faced seriously challenging life circumstances, and have found courage and strength in the shared experience of Sacred Presence shining into the darkness.
The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of God has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but God will arise upon you, and God’s glory will appear over you.” In the opening words of the Gospel of John we find these words of comfort, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Spread across the pages of scripture, from beginning to end, is the message that we are not alone and appearances-to-the-contrary-notwithstanding there is reason to hope that Light and Love will ultimately triumph.
I know, however, that just because I write these words as a Christian pastor does not mean you who are reading these words necessarily fit neatly into that world view.
You may live within a different faith tradition, or perhaps no faith tradition at all. So, in the end, what I seek to offer is not a “Christian” perspective, but a human perspective. I believe that central to what it means to be human is to be connected to something beyond ourselves. We are intimately and intricately woven into the very fabric of all there is, and when we lose sight of that truth it is easy to feel lost and empty. There is something in us that knows we are a part of something larger than ourselves.
Augustine, the 5th-century Christian theologian, wrote these words in a prayer, “You made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Your world view may not include the notion of a divine being (God or whatever other name you might choose to use) who created us and calls us. But I believe that it is vital for our well-being as humans to experience ourselves as connected to a reality which extends beyond our own skin.
Where do we find meaning and purpose and light for our living? I invite you to look both within and beyond yourself. When we can slow down enough to simply pay attention to our breathing and listen to the beating of our hearts we begin to get in touch with our primal humanity, which will ultimately open us to a larger world, because that is what it means to be truly human. To paraphrase Augustine, our hearts are restless (and lost) until we rest in our connection with all that is.
So, as we step into yet another new year, may we do so with boldness and courage and joy and a profound sense of connection. Grieve what we have lost, but do not get stuck there.
There is light shining in our darkness. Call it God, or Sacred Presence, or Ultimate Reality, or the Great Mystery, or call it nothing at all, but be aware that we are each a part of something larger than we can even begin to imagine. Allow this moment, and every moment, to become an opportunity for a new beginning, as we open ourselves to the Great Unfolding of Life. Arise! Shine! For your Light has come!
Roger Lynn is the pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.