New Year's Day


“Nostalgia is the lie of the past. Fantasy is the lie of the present and future.”  - The Rev’d Canon Charles LaFond 

Even lacking formal training in the classics, people recognize immediately the Roman deity Janus- the god depicted with two faces on the same head, looking in opposite directions. The Romans knew it is inevitable at year’s end/beginning to take stock for a moment, and then peer into the gloom from which the future is emerging. Anyone with a mind and heart does this almost instinctively, risking nostalgia instead of memory, tempted toward fantasy instead of relying upon hope. Nostalgia and fantasy are traps we set for ourselves, and maturity provides the better alternatives of memory and hope. Truth be told, it’s not that hard to tell the former from the latter: for example, we imagine what we’d do with a winning lottery ticket- that’s fantasy, not hope. As long as we know that’s fantasy, we’re OK. When we’re unclear about it, though- lingering a bit too long in that place where we muddle the distinctions between nostalgia/fantasy and memory/hope- things become dangerous. I’m reminded of my clinical supervisor’s shorthand for such distinctions: “Neurotics build castles in the sky. Psychotics live in them.” We’re already in dangerous territory in the act of remembering; human memory is a self-editing sense and it is shaped in part by what we wish had happened rather than the perhaps more painful and probably much more mundane reality of what did happen. These are common, self-laid traps; one is spiritually mature not in their absence (itself a fantasy) but in recognizing them for what they are, and choosing the more mature and truthful path. Memory recalls the humble reality of what was, and hope asks the best of what may come. 

At the turning of the year, I catalogue the victories and losses- the trials and the triumphs- of my life. Not unique in the least, I join billions of my fellow creatures who mark time as I do, taking a cursory inventory of the year just ended. And I do so knowing that comparisons are odious… something qualifies as a triumph or a tragedy based on who the observer is, not on what happened. For one person a remembered fender bender is some stressed sheet metal, while for another it’s a catastrophe. For one person, a death is recalled with grim satisfaction, while for another that same death is the occasion of crushing grief. 

As to the coming year, I want to separate my hopes from fantasy. I have discovered that many of my hopes remain the same from year to year. They focus primarily on my faith, the acuity of my perception, and the deepening of what little wisdom I possess. I want to “get it.” I want to see what’s actually in front of me, to decipher the truth in what I see, and interpret it maturely. Such desires bear immediately upon New Year’s Day and every subsequent day. They help me to see clearly… they make it easier to know whose heart will be broken, and whose heart will be mended… who will finally “get it” and who will remain utterly clueless… who will live in their anger and hurt for yet another season, and who will be redeemed in setting such things aside…. what are the joys and sorrows of the year to come… what are God’s possibilities, not just my own? My year-to-year hopes are anchored not so much in specific outcomes, but rather in God loving me, and my flexibility to comprehend and adapt to processes and events as they become clear. I think I’m not alone in this. 

Recognizing and stepping around the nostalgia/fantasy trap, what are your memories of the year past, and your hopes for the year ahead? For what endings and for what beginnings do you hope in the time ahead? 

Any assessment of 2016 undoubtedly includes ambivalence generally about the life we live as persons, as families, as a parish, as a diocese, as a nation, and as occupants of a planet that every second grows smaller and more violent. Added to these things may be personal health concerns of one kind or another, worries about money and changing relationships, and death. We weigh heavy losses in 2016 among all sorts of public personalities, including Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, John Glenn, Henry Heimlich, Janet Reno, Leonard Cohen, Gwen Ifill, Leon Russell, Denton Cooley, Florence Henderson, Fidel Castro, Richard Adams, Neville Marriner, Tom Hayden, Edward Albee, Arnold Palmer, Shimon Peres, Pete Fountain, Gene Wilder, Elie Wiesel, Muhammad Ali, Gordie Howe, Alvin Toffler, Pat Summitt, Morley Safer, Merle Haggard, Daniel Berrigan, Pat Conroy, Nancy Reagan, Joe Gargagiola, Harper Lee, Umberto Eco, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman. Closer to home, fewer in number but far more painful, our recent memory tallies parish losses that include Doug Galloway, Bob Bregler, Bernie Braen, Lou Jammer and Mike Bak. These are but a few deaths that touch us; each death is an occasion to reflect upon “the shortness and uncertainty of human life,”[1] and in that reflective moment to be grateful for the lives we have been given. 

Gratitude does not express itself simply in self-congratulatory relief at having been spared this or that, but rather turns us toward a better stewardship of the Graces we have been given, and the resolution to strengthen what is good and change what is not so good. Resolutions at this time of year are fraught with peril; facile, tepid New Year’s resolutions usually are sincerely made, quickly broken vows about exercise, diet and other personal habits, expressing desire to change that goes nowhere because, if we are honest with ourselves, we really don’t want to change how we live. Gratitude confers resolve of a different sort. 

As you look toward 2017, do you have any hopes you can articulate, or do you live simply with the vague yearning to lose nothing more? Remember, hope isn’t a lottery ticket- that’s fantasy. If you can tell the difference and you do have hopes, what are they? Is a part of your hope the desire for a changed condition in your life, but only if you can be the passive recipient of it? At what point are you willing to become an active participant in the realization of your hopes? How do your hopes modify when you contemplate what you personally must change or sacrifice to realize them? If you’re just too tired or frightened to effect the changes and make the sacrifices, you are saying at least in part that you’re willing to give away hope. You sure? Are you OK with that? If not, are you looking for the point where fantasy becomes hope, and the point right next to it where hope ceases being an abstraction and becomes a goal? Most basic of all, where is Jesus in all of this? How is He connected to your hope? 

New Year’s Day is a contemplative day, freighted with questions while pretty light on answers. At such times, prayer helps… prayer that listens more than it speaks… the urgency of the day ironically being waiting and listening rather than talking and acting. As the arbitrary ticking of the clock leads us out of one year into another, I urge that the moment be kept in quiet prayerful listening. I ask that you make time to eat food that fortifies you, and drink that which gladdens your heart. I ask that your activity include pursuits that make your heart sing. I pray that you will neither be dragged kicking and screaming into 2017, nor in ill consideration rush headlong into it. In the quiet confidence of people whose hope is in the Word made flesh, I pray that we will straighten our backs, square our shoulders and open our eyes. 

2017 is here. What do you have in mind, Lord? 

Happy New Year. Love you. See you in Church.



[1] The Book of Common Prayer, pg 489

The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents