As much as I’m grateful for new seasons in life, the clichés accompanied with the new year ironically color it the “same old same old” for me. There are the new-year-resolution cynics, and I just may identify as one. But then again, maybe leaning into the cynicism comforts me in my own anxiety for the new year. Somehow poking fun at the clichés and the resolved “resolution-ists” allows me to feel better about my own uncertainties, doubts, and fears. It justifies my lack of resolution-making, right?
And then I remember that the Lord has brought me this far. And that’s worth celebrating, and that’s worth bringing with me into 2015.
Blogger and writer Sarah Bessey recently wrote a piece about chosing and centering on a word or theme for the year. I like this concept even more than setting resolutions. Hers is to “hold fast,” alluding to Hebrews 10:23:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. ~ Hebrews 10:23 NKJV
She writes, “This is my year to hold fast to that confession of our hope because he is faithful. And that is a truth I have learned down to my bones over the years. He is faithful. There is joy in that truth for me, real joy, not resignation and plodding. Life and life more abundant hides in our life as it stands.”
Holding fast to his faithfulness in the everydayness of life reminds me of Barbara Brown Taylor who often writes about finding the sacredness in life – that there is no division of sacred and secular, but rather, God is present in all things. We are invited to identify these altars in the world, shine a light on that holiness, and to be changed by it.
She also speaks of holy ignorance and of the difference between faith and certainty. You can at once trust in God and question everything you’ve been taught about him. She remarks that her faith is akin to a spiritual map, one with both a center and an edge. At the center is the Church and all its traditions, tenets, and practices. Take a step outside the center, and you experience the wilderness; a wilderness where one encounters God as a different kind of holy, where pilgrims brave long, arduous journeys of doubt and uncertainty to find a holiness that supersedes our theological discussions and comfortable church life. However, we need both the center and the edge in our lives as each complements the other – one without the other is not a complete map.
Frederick Buechner’s artistic writing is a special kind of holy for my soul. It’s the kind that spans both the center and the edge of the map. You don’t find traditional Sunday school answers and clichés in his sermons and writing. Instead, you find allegory and truth written so divinely, so poetically that you have to pause to grasp the holiness he identifies. He speaks of the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth as encountering the greatest glory they’d ever known. He likens it to staring out at the sky, the pasture, without really seeing what you’re looking at – because of distraction, toiling, resignation. But when they realize the glory before them, they’re overcome by it, changed by it. Suddenly, everything around them is full of glory – the mud, sky, birds, air. Brightness was everywhere.
Identifying these altars then begs the questions of how I’ll respond to that holiness. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, not only does Scrooge emerge a redeemed man, he embodies the theme of encountering glory and responds by desiring to right social injustices. He witnesses joy, suffering, and community with the aid of the three Christmas spirits, and his world is opened before him. This theme is aptly summed up by his nephew’s words: Christmas is a time where we recognize that all of us, the rich and poor alike, “are fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” Encountering holiness illuminates our common humanity, our common hope and therefore ushers us into a response of compassion and justice.
It is with this hope I enter into the new year: that holiness is right where I am sitting, that it is right around the corner; that his faithfulness reaches beyond the center to the edge of the map; that he brings light to our world, but shows us that he abides in our darkness, too – where he is real, present, and working.
So, for 2015, I am “holding fast” to his faithfulness because He is present in the light and dark; at the center and edge; in faith and doubt. As small as my understanding is of it, that’s everyday holiness.