At the Cusp of a New Year

“Letting Go, Looking Forward,” Susan Ryder

Letting Go
Throughout the darkest Sundays of the year during the season of Advent, we have been considering what it means to be a people of hope. Next week, as light slowly starts to return, we will begin to consider what it means to be a people of vision. This morning, during this in-between time, we find ourselves on the cusp of a new year. Maybe you’re eager to begin anew, hopeful for what lies ahead as you summon your will to make changes for the better, anticipating tomorrow through the lens of a clean slate. Or perhaps you feel anxious about 2019, worrying or even dreading what may lie ahead. So on this last Sunday of the year, it seems fitting to catch our breath for a moment, looking back on and forward to where we’re headed from a the relative security of the New Year’s home base. Rather than our usual reflection, we’ll participate in a couple of rituals this morning to reorient and get out bearings during this moment between what was and what will be.  Think of this as a chance to restock our spiritual backpack – getting rid of excess ballast that weighs us down and balancing the load so we can focus on we can make the most of the journey ahead with all the joys and challenges it certainly has in store.

The month of January is aptly named for the Roman god Janus, who is described as having two faces – one looking back to see the past, the other peering ahead into the future. Here at this threshold between yesterday and tomorrow, we have an opportunity to be similarly mindful, to reflect how we navigated the good and not so good of 2018. And in so doing we to set our intentions for the year ahead, imbuing our hopes and worries with the combined wisdom of imagination and clear thinking.

To create a better vision for the New Year, we have to discard some baggage from the old one. There are two scraps of paper in your bulletin – please take the first one out and write down a few words or phrases describing things of which you would like to unburden yourself, things you’d like to leave behind in 2018. Perhaps there are unrealistic expectations, unhealthy relationships, wrongdoings, guilt, worry, something or someone you need to forgive and move on. If there is something that you feel called to say “no thank you” or “no more,” something you need to be done with, write it on that slip of paper. You can write just one thing, or fill the paper up on both sides if that’s what you need. So take these few moments of quiet to write those things down – be as honest as you can – no one else will see these. What can you let go of from the previous year, or say no to? What can you leave behind?

Now that everyone is finished, I’m going to invite you to come up to the communion table with your slip of paper and burn it.  You can think of this as a catharsis if you like, or as turning it over to the sacred mystery.  To do this, light the slip of paper on fire by tipping the corner into the Christ Candle from our Advent Wreath, and then drop it in the pan. You’ll see it flare– you’ll smell the smoke – and these can be physical, sensual symbols of letting go. To be clear, this ritual doesn’t necessarily mean the process of “letting go” is complete. But I encourage you to experience this as a tangible gesture — perhaps the first step of many — in your intention to free your life of things that have been restrictive or harmful for you.

Looking Forward
Our lives begin in our imagination, which is to say in our dreams. According to Australian Aborigines, dreamtime is where the world itself began. It was the beginning of knowledge, existence, of place. Through dreaming, the Ancestors created beings and shaped the land – the sun, the moon, the stars; humans, animals, birds and fish – all of the earth enveloped in that Dreamtime. Dreaming, creating meaning in place and beings, is a spiritual responsibility. Culture is – in part – created by what we dream. When you dream something, you begin to take it into yourself, creating it and shaping it. But you have to dream it first.

What dreams enrich our spiritual lives? What dreams might open us up to becoming our best selves, to helping bring about the greater good? What dreams might lead us to do that which is right and noble and kind? What unrealized possibilities would be meaningful for you to embrace in the coming new year? What might enrich your inner life? Take a few moments now to imagine, to dream. And let these be dreams, not commitments to rush out and uphold impulsively, not resolutions, but dreams that settle into us, change our perspective slowly enough to take root in reality. The dreams we dream today may help us connect more gracefully as the year opens up to us. Again, take a few quiet moments now to write those dreams down on the second slip of paper – if you need to write more than will fit, grab another piece. Write down something that describes what you want to do, affirm, say “yes” to in the new year – make it a letter to yourself, or a to-do list, a “to become” list – whatever speaks to your heart. Instead of burning this paper, you’ll send it to yourselves. When you are done, put today’s date on your piece of paper, put that paper inside the envelope, seal it, and address it to yourself. We are going to mail these to you in six months.  Take a few moments now to exercise your imagination for how you might grow in the New Year.

As we move forward into the new year let us remember the warmth of our connections to each other and our many brothers and sisters. Let us draw strength from the dark depth of winter’s nights. Whatever path you chose to enrich your spirit, take the time this winter to dream yourself along the way.

Mark Stringer
As the year winds down to its close
And we are submerged once again
In the seasonal darkness we have come to know so well,
We have reason to think back upon the year that was,
If only because it will soon be gone.
We think back to the friends we have made,
The sorrow we have endured
The love we have found
The loneliness we have survived.
We think back to the blessings of being forgiven
And the gift we offered to ourselves when we forgave.
We think back to those who listened to us in our times of need
And the times we could have listened more.
We think back to the things we traded for our time
And to what we may have overlooked in the process.
We think back to the times when we were afraid and uncertain and we trudged ahead anyway, and the times when we were compassionate when we could have been cold.
In this season of still-growing night
May we see more clearly
Against the dark backdrop of our living
The true light of our lives:
The love we give to others
And the peace we nurture in ourselves.