Although New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day have no recognized place in the liturgical calendar, some churches mark the coming of the New Year with “watch night” services, times of confession and hopefulness, recalling the faithfulness of God through all the seasons of life. Yet, holistic spirituality recognizes that the secular is really the sacred in disguise. If God is omnipresent, as theologians throughout the ages have affirmed, then all times and places are holy, though some may be set apart as special by divine or human intentionality. And, so we must keep watch for divine movements in ordinary time.
In the spirit of the Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” we can affirm that at the turning of the year, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” New Year’s is often about the quest for new behaviours, new attitudes, and new visions to mirror the coming of a new year. The New Year’s resolutions, even when they last only a few days, remind us that we can be transformed; that we can become new creations; that we can see our lives in a new way. The impact of past and present need not imprison us; we have the freedom to shape our attitudes, first, and then our behaviours. Behold God is doing a new thing and so can we!
While celebration is in order at New Year’s, the turning of the year is also an opportunity for reflection, gratitude, and transformation. With Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, we can breathe in the New Year, opening to the totality of our feelings and experiences. As we breathe in, we can accept the fullness of our experience, including a divine peace that passes all understanding. We can listen for a quiet voice of possibility amid the welter of experience; a still small voice, whispering in sighs too deep for words, calling us to adventure and transformation. We can take time, as we should each day, to give thanks. As Dag Hammarksjold counselled: For all that has been—thanks. For all that shall be—yes!
Gratitude opens the door to appreciation, inspiration, and openness to the future. The great “yes” we proclaim is not assent to injustice, global climate change, racism, sexism, homophobia, and consumerism. It is a “yes” to God’s life moving through all things, calling us forward to changed lives and changed communities. With the Hebraic tradition, New Year’s is the call to choose life moment by moment amidst our responsibilities to our communities and the planet. Death holds too much power in our lives; but love casts out the fear and embraces abundant life for us and for all creation. Gratitude and appreciation open us to life-transforming love.
The events of life are now global and we must become global persons. We must vow to grow in wisdom and stature, to become persons of size, with large souls rather than cramped partisan spirits. In the turning year, we remember the great certainties that undergird all change, New Year’s reminds us that there is a graceful movement amid all change. All will be well if we follow its moving image into the new day and the new year. God is with you in the New Year!