Every year at this time we spontaneously and genuinely wish each other ‘Happy New Year.’ We have all being doing it for decades and it is a heartfelt wish for all that is good, prosperous and blessed towards family, neighbours, relations and friends. Like all gestures religious or otherwise it can become mechanical and routine. We did it at the beginning of 2020 and we could never have realised, in our wildest dreams, where we would be led and what we would have to face, and indeed are still facing.
The year, that is just ending, has affected us at every level and shaken us to the core. We have lost loved ones and were unable to mourn for them in our customary manner, businesses have been wiped out, careers badly disrupted, churches closed, social habits and normal ways of proceeding significantly altered. Masks, sanitising and social distancing are now second nature to us. We are still processing layers of disillusionment, anxiety, fear trauma and grief. In our urgency to return to ‘normal’ living and get into a new year there is a real danger that we lose the lesson and grace that is being offered to us.
Hopefully we will carry into 2021 a new depth of understanding and an appreciation of what we have. We now know what it is like to be vulnerable and needy. We realise that technology, no matter how slick, cannot save us and that Google and the social media platforms cannot provide us with the answers. We have to turn to the One who is, who was, and who has come – the One who has promised he will make all things new. In Revelations we hear, ‘Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ.’ (Rev 12:10). The Christmas message Immanuel, God is with us, should sound daily and often in the chambers of our hearts as we move into a new phase of our evolution in 2021.
It is precisely because the victory has been won and that God journeys with us that we can confidently greet one another with joy at the beginning of January. No form of darkness, no matter how deep, will ever conquer the Light of Christ within. Certainly we have known deep darkness but sometimes, when you are in a dark place, you think you have been buried but actually you’ve been planted!
Something new is emerging from our time of travail and we must surrender and lean into this ‘newness’ that God is creating and let it lead us forward. The key word is receptivity and surrender.
This January I am convinced that our Happy New Year greetings will come from a much deeper and compassionate place in our hearts. May the words we use have our own fingerprints on them and reflect the contours of our own inner landscapes.
You, Great Shepherd,
the ground of our being,
do not desert us.
Our cup overflows with gratitude.
May our lives this year be filled with compassion
this is all you ask in return.
Fr Declan Boland is a priest of the Derry Diocese and Parish Priest of Strabane (Camus)
Photograph ©Colum Ferry Photography