A New Year’s Meditation 2018

  • Posted on Apr 24, 2018


And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:16

The great poet Alfred Lord Tennyson gave us the poem “In Memoriam” which gave us these famous lines: “Ring out the old, ring in the new.” A New Year dawns with so many possibilities. We all come up with resolutions of how things WILL be better this next year. We will go to the gym. We will give up sugar. We will stop smoking or drinking. It’s easy for our list of resolutions to grow tedious and long and complicated. If I was to sum up most of my resolutions in years past, it would be in this sentence. “I want to simplify my life and get back to basics.” I want to come back to the basics of eating healthily, exercising and making family and friends a priority. But it seems like every year I try and somewhere along the way, I lose my way.

The great Quaker spiritual writer Thomas Kelly says that we often think the answer to simplifying our lives lies in controlling our modern life and its complexities. He says: “Our lives in the modern (world) grow too complex and overcrowded. Even the necessary obligations which we feel we must meet grow overnight, like Jack’s beanstalk, and before we know it we are bowed down with burdens, crushed under committees, strained, breathless, and hurried, panting through a never-ending program of appointments. We are too busy to be good husbands to our wives, good wives to our husbands, good companions to our children, good friends to our friends, and with no time at all to be friends to the friendless.”

I think we’ve all been there. BUT then, when we try to simplify, to turn back to what we know really matters, Kelly says that “If we withdraw from public engagements and interests, in order to spend quiet hours with the family, the guilty calls of citizenship whisper disquieting claims in our ears. Our children’s schools should receive our interest, the civic problems of our community need our attention, the wider issues of the nation and of the world are heavy upon us. Our professional status, our social obligations, our membership in this or that important organization, put claims upon us. And in FRANTIC FIDELITY we try to meet at least the necessary minimum of calls upon us. But we’re weary and breathless. And we know and regret that our life is slipping away, without having tasted so little of the peace and joy and serenity we are persuaded it should yield to our soul.” (quoted from A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly (Harper San Francisco: 1941) p 89ff)

And so Thomas Kelly says we try to simplify and well-order the externals of our lives–everything out there–in hopes of simplifying and finding that peace that passes all understanding. Yet Kelly says that is our first mistake for it is not in our externals, the world out there, the outward order of lives where the answer lies. Indeed, we imagine life as a quiet South Sea Island existence or we harken back to an earlier time–perhaps the horse and buggy days of our great grandparents, who went “dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh” jingle jangling through the hills to their grandparents on the farm. Could we recreate that life?

Problem is that we Americans carry to that South Sea Island or life in an earlier time our “mad-cap feverish life” The solution is not out there. But WITHIN. A place where the Word becomes flesh and lives among us. A place inside our soul where the foundation of all dwells and can be that way to unite all our different selves and allegiances. But it is so very hard to be attentive to that voice.

I’d like to suggest that while we might ring in the new, we don’t necessary ring out the old. That we FIRST look for the way by finding where the Word becomes Flesh and dwells among us in both the very new and the old.

On Christmas Eve, Bishop Martin presented us with the Parking Lot Jesus, telling the story of a baby whose appearance with his or her mother on the Dulles Airport Shuttle Bus changed the tenor of a dreary, haggard, frazzled busload of travelers into a place of joy and community. I believe children have that way of drawing us to that place of Christ. As Bishop Martin said: “There is something unassailably believable about the affection of a child; there is no love that is warmer. Look at the unselfconscious exuberance of children in our Christmas pageant and smiles begin to fill any room that they are in. There is no guile. We believe and receive such love, not in the rationality of our minds but in the hopefulness of our hearts. God chose to come among us as a vulnerable child so he could speak more clearly to our own hearts where we are most vulnerable.”

I also believe that those among us who have lived many decades do the same. Because the elderly too are vulnerable. In the New York Times this past week, there was an article by John Leland entitled “Want to Be Happy? Think Like an Old Person” Leland has been following several New Yorkers who have lived into our 90s. And lived into the 90s with joy and happiness.In fact, older people report higher levels of contentment that teenagers and young adults. If the elders were not always gleeful, they were resilient and not paralyzed by the challenges that came their way. All had known loss and survived. None went to a job they did not like, coveted things that could not afford, brooded over a slight or lost sleep over events in the distant future. Only one said they were afraid to die. In fact, they all spent energy on things that they could still do that brought them satisfaction, not on what they had lost to age. As elder Fred Jones said, “It’s like the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The span is too long just to have a bridge, so they had to have a bridge and an underpass. So part of it you’re up here, and part of it you’re down here, and finally you get to the Eastern Shore. Good days, bad days. But over all it’s good days.” I might improve on that line….overall , it’s God days….each and every one. I think we each know elders who brighten our life with their simple and profound way of living life each and every day. I can think of many of the years—in my family and in my faith communities. Who become my touchstone to the God within. As a simplifying compass point to point the way

So this week, seek out an infant or a young child OR someone who has lived at least eight decades……see if you can find some clues of how to simplify and get back to basics in this new year 2018. The Word became flesh and lived among us———in Jesus Christ and surely in those who are new to this life and those who have learned over many years what is truly important.

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