January 3, 2021
“So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17
“Always, we begin again!” ~ Saint Benedict
I forget exactly what happened. I said something. Jennifer said something. I returned a volley, and she did likewise. In the time it takes to say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” we were irritated and resentful of one another, and it went downhill from there. How did that happen? We have been down this road a few times over the years. As the new year begins, can we become new creations? Can we begin again? Can we truly live a new year and embody the mind or the consciousness of Christ?
In a recent meditation, Richard Rohr said that after practicing contemplation for over fifty years his “immediate response to most situations includes attachment, defensiveness, judgment, control, and analysis.” That makes me feel better in a kind of sad, funny way. How about you?
As we begin the new year, maybe we can start noticing how we react or respond to most situations. Are we defensive? Do we listen? Do we create all sorts of “horrible” scenarios in our heads? Do we attack, or do we hold the moment? Do we try to understand, or do we try to win an argument? Do we have compassion or judgment? Are we patient and gentle with ourselves and others, or are we irritable, resentful, arrogant, or rude?
Henri Nouwen in his short book A Spirituality of Living (We are going to do a study on this book by the way. Consider taking the class on Wednesday nights.) says that “the spiritual life is a life that is guided by God’s Spirit, the same Spirit that guided the life of Jesus.”
Jesus lived from a spirit of love not hate, hope not despair, patience not impatience, and compassion instead of apathy. When Thomas questions Jesus, Jesus responds with gentleness and patience. “Put your finger here Thomas and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Christ is not defensive or irritated with Thomas.
It is a new year, and it can be a new beginning for us. Nouwen writes, “So how can we be in touch with the Spirit, hear the voice of the Spirit, and allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit?” Can we create some space for God to inform, guide, and shape our responses to all the interactions we have each day?
We live busy lives, and we tend to fill up our days with more and more to do. The more hectic our lives get the less patience and kindness we tend to manifest, but “when we create an empty space, we make room for something to happen to us that we cannot predict, something that might be really new and lead us” to new life. As Saint Benedict said, “Always, we begin again!”
So, how do we cultivate a new life? How can we move from reacting, usually not well, to responding to life and people with more compassion, patience, and peace?
Jesus lived a very disciplined life. Sometimes we have a distaste for the word discipline. It might conjure up images of rigidity and a lack of spontaneity and joy. “In the spiritual life, the word discipline means the effort to create some space in which God can act. Discipline helps us to follow the voice of the Spirit, who wants to lead us to new places, new people, and new forms of service,” say Nouwen.
Jesus adhered to a disciplined pattern writes Nouwen. He spent the night in solitude (prayer) with God. In the morning he formed community, and in the afternoon, he did ministry—he healed, forgave, listened, and affirmed people’s dignity and worth (see Luke 6:12-19).
What disciplines do we cultivate? Do we just do the same thing over and over again, year after year and expect different results?
Over the years, I have met a few monks and nuns in monasteries and convents. They live very disciplined lives. They pray early in the morning, midday, evening, and before they go to bed. One nun, Sister Fern, in Concordia, Kansas walks with a bounce to her step, she cannot stop smiling and laughing, and she is an activist. Her discipline leads to joy. God is love and God is with us. Her discipline leads her to have compassion and empathy for all people.
Most of us probably are not going to run out and join a monastery or a convent, but we can create space for God in our lives. We can spend time in solitude, we can be part of a faith community, and we can do ministry. If we create space for God, we can experience new life full of more hope, peace, joy, and love. Of course, we will have moments both good and bad. However, this new year, may we make a commitment to solitude, community, and ministry. Let us see what happens.
Blessings and peace,