Hope in the New Year

Today’s post is by Mary van Balen

I like to celebrate Christmas—all 12 days of the season. So, while discarded Christmas trees line neighborhood sidewalks, mine still shines with white lights and carefully chosen ornaments. By the time you read this, Epiphany will have come and gone, and my tree will be back in the basement. But not yet.

This year I added a small book of daily readings to my holiday ritual: The Work of Christmas: The 12 Days of Christmas with Howard Thurman, by Bruce Epperly. It helped me reflect on Christmas well beyond the Advent struggle to keep mind and heart centered on God-with-us while busy with pre-Christmas preparations and dealing with holiday stress when the day finally arrived.

This Christmas was especially enjoyable for me, filled with lots of family and company. Despite the activity, I made time each day to sit with this book. And when the holidays passed, family returned to their homes, and I returned to work, feelings of joy and hope that have been elusive, stirred in my heart.

This new year begins with dark days in our nation and in the world. Wars rage around the globe. Refugees, fleeing oppression and violence are being turned away from places once considered welcoming, including our country.  Division, fear and anger abound. The environmental crisis of global warming threatens catastrophic change for people and living things that inhabit the earth. Even progress that has helped clean up air and water is being turned back, profits more important than health.

Not much had changed between December 25 and January 1. So, where was this sense of joy and hope coming from? Why the easy smile? Why did grace and beauty pop into my view more often?

I thought it had something to do with the book, so I sat with it again and began reading from the beginning, searching for particular words or phrases that might have awakened these feelings.

Perhaps it was looking at Christmas through the eyes of an African American theologian and mystic born in Florida who grew up in the south during the days of Jim Crow. A man who knew oppression and could empathize with the oppressed and marginalized people in today’s world.

Or maybe, I thought, the words that recognized beauty in the midst of darkness helped me to become more aware of the beauty that resides in the world today. I kept looking.

Suddenly, these words filled my mind, pushing everything else aside: You are not alone.

I closed the book. That was it. Experiencing that truth over the past two weeks had made the difference though I hadn’t realized it at the time. Whether reading examples from Thurman’s own life, reflecting on the Scripture passages chosen and reflections written by Epperly, or living it with my daughters, family, and friends, I experienced the Epiphany revelation: God is with us. Always has been. Always will be.

And that is source of my hope.

It doesn’t make everything easy. Thurman didn’t sentimentalize Christmas. When he spoke of light coming out of darkness, he knew what he was talking about. Still, he had hope. In “The Mood of Christmas,” he reminds us that “… good is more permanent than evil.”

Epperly’s reflections focused attention on the reality that Christmas is not only blessing but also work, as Thurman’s poem “Now the Work of Christmas Begins” expresses. It is God’s work that we are created to do. Each of us. In our own way. In our own time and place. With our own gifts.

We do it together, sustained by countless acts of love and creativity. We live in the river of Grace that has flowed through all people and creation since the beginning of time. And it flows still. We contribute to it by being faithful and sharing the particular Grace we have been given.

Trusting that, trusting that God, indeed, is with us, allows us not only to have courage to contribute to that river of life in dark times as well as in light, but also to enjoy beauty and goodness along the way. And to hope.

Originally appeared in The Catholic Times, January 13, 2019.

If you are interested in learning more about Howard Thurman and his spirituality, consider registering for the Howard Thurman Retreat Day offered by the Shalem Institute. I took advantage of this online retreat last year and highly recommend it. Thurman has much to say to us and our times. Follow the link above for more information. ~Mary

January 01, 2019 by Mary van Balen
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