The new year, in every calendar and every tradition, is usually both a time of reflection and a time of renewal.
In most, if not all traditions, it is an affirmation of the desire and hope that we can be, and become, in some ways, fuller and better people.
New Year’s resolutions are notorious for their short shelf-life, but people of faith know that they can be much more than vain attempts to get more fit or eat better.
The premise of virtually every faith tradition is that we can become, somehow, “new” people – any time of year.
It’s fair to say that we all have things to “work on”, to embrace or to leave behind, but more than that, central to most faiths is that we can become entirely new people, born, as the saying goes “again”.
This new person, as some of know directly, is oddly more solid and more porous, more submissive and yet more determined, more “free” but yet more defined, more demanding and yet more forgiving, and perhaps even more sad and somber – with a heart more joyous and celebrative than ever before.
The “converted” person is freer of what binds everyone else, but somehow knows a deeper allegiance to a presence few others seem to comprehend or acknowledge.
Violations and cruelty are seen clearly as an affront to the Creator as much as to any individual.
Injustice is seen, not only as an assault on a person or people, but as an insult and injury to justice itself.
The seeking of “justice” is not a goal or a belief, it is a correcting, a stabilizing, a reclamation that Creation – and the Creator – matter more than we can ever know.
Scriptures of all faith warn of those who are “seeking but never finding” and of those who become more brittle, cynical even cruel and vindictive with a veneer of religiosity. These people, we are told, are the worst.
To use phrases from scriptures, they “block the way”, “poison the well” and “make worse converts than themselves”.
They, like all of us perhaps, make a world in their own image.
And the “fruit” of such a “faith” is all too apparent. Eventually.
But not always before lifelong damage is done.
But the person truly “born again” seeks AND finds. Heals and restores. Requires much – and forgives much. Celebrates and mourns.
And values life, even as they are willing to leave it behind.
Being born “again” then, is much like being born the first time; we find ourselves in a world where we must learn how things work – from gravity to the volume of our own voices – and become a vital, contributing presence in a world that we find ourselves in, fully but not always willingly.
And perhaps that is the point – the world is ours – and not ours. We belong to it as much as it belongs to us.
A New Year is as much about endings as it is beginnings.
Western traditions set the new year in mid-winter, Asian cultures at the “new moon” – the ultimate signifier of spring.
They are both right. A new year, and a new beginning is a celebration of life as much as a mourning of what has cast a lasting shadow over it.
When does the year “begin”, when does it “end”?
Perhaps it only begins when we embrace it and it merges into us so that we, now, then, and all of eternity, all of our hopes, dreams and disappointments become indistinguishable.
The kingdom of God is within us, in front of us, and among us.
It is never far away. And never out of reach.