The party season is not quite over. Christmas as a season is winding down and now we can catch our collective breath before New Year. While people sometimes deplore the busyness of the season, it seems somehow cathartic to have all this activity just after the longest night of the year – the winter solstice. The abundance of dark and cold is a natural cue to hibernate, but maybe that’s just my senior citizen genes kicking in. It’s hard to hibernate when all around you there are innumerable concerts, work parties, shopping events and holiday travel activity.
Transitions generally have spiritual significance, whether they are framed in religious terms or whether they are secular rituals that we just “do”. What do you do for the New Year, to mark the change from a year gone by to a year yet to be? Part of the ritual is New Year’s Eve. Some people will party big time and others will stay home and watch the New Year’s Eve specials on TV, an experience perhaps shared with family and friends. At some level we are marking the end of something and looking forward to the possibility of something new. The big globe descends at Times Square and everyone cheers. Why is that one moment so special?
In many ways life just goes on after the calendar flips over. On your birthday you become conscious that now you are really a year older but at the New Year, everyone is aware at the same moment that twelve months have gone by. This fact is reinforced by those TV specials summarizing the year in review. We also think back to what happened in our own lives, both good and bad. And thoughts turn to resolutions about how we might shape the year to come.
Making deliberate choices about how we want our life to be is spiritual work. Some people have established rituals of self-examination and discernment. Christians might engage in communal or private confession in their church, or go on a special kind of retreat. There is renewed interest in spiritual practices that appeal to both the religious and the non-religious, eg. mindfulness workshops, meditation groups, journaling, Tai Chi, yoga. Sometimes the chosen spiritual work involves a new membership at the gym, prompted by awareness of the cumulative effect of holiday eating. Gym owners everywhere applaud this kind of spirituality!
New Year’s resolutions are probably the secular form of our desire for spiritual transformation. If “spiritual” in this sense means all of who we are, as opposed to something “other-worldly”, then resolutions flow from a realization that we want to be all that we can be. The present year has been a mixture of many things that cannot be changed, but next year we can be intentional about the possibility of transformation. Sometimes transformation is about perspective and sometimes it is about behaviours and awareness. A list of “to do” resolutions can in themselves be delusional or self-defeating. But if we nurture what is spiritual and life giving for us, in the face of many distractions and pressures, then maybe the New Year is a stepping stone to a larger spiritual transformation that is hopeful for ourselves and our world. Happy New Year.
Larry Scott is a retired United Church minister living in Victoria.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the TImes Colonist on Saturday, December 30 2017