Sunday, January 1, 2012

Always we begin again...

I had been contemplating what I might write today as the New Year begins and only the vaguest of notions came to mind. I hoped and prayed that the Grace might come, as I know that without it all of my efforts are in vain. My mind felt a bit muddled and my head began to ache, likely from staring too long at my computer screen. So I decided to take a little walk, to clear my mind, though the weather was hardly inviting. "Perhaps I will find some beauty", I thought to myself doubtfully. I stuck my camera in my pocket, just in case.

I put on my winter coat and gloves since the temperature had been dropping. I stepped out and felt the icy pricks of rain upon my face. The sky was full of threatening clouds and the sun so well hidden that the whole world seemed gray. The wind gusted about me. Out of habit, I walked toward the overpass where a number of freeways pass each other in layers. Fire engines wailed, one after another, as I began my quest. The sidewalk too was gray in my monochromatic world, except where bits of litter and decaying leaves added splotches of white and brown. Perhaps today there is no beauty, I thought. It could happen.

As we begin a new year, we encounter an opportunity to look at our lives from a slightly different perspective. New Year's Day is, of course, just another day and we would know no difference without our calendars announcing the change. Sometimes the changing year causes us to look back, perhaps thankful for blessings that came our way in the last 12 months. However, there are those among us for whom looking back is only a reminder that 2011 was the worst year of their lives. Yet either way, there is something about a new year that both frightens and gives hope.

If all I see from my soul's window is sunless gray in endless expanse, I may indeed feel afraid. Can I make it through another year? Do I even want to try, if I can see nothing but more of the same up ahead?

Yet for some sufferers, the hanging of a new calendar brings a sense of relief, a sense of closure to last year's difficulties, offering the possibility that this year will be different. I don't see beauty now because it is winter. But spring and summer will come again... yet so will winter...

Today while walking I allowed myself to see and experience (admittedly for a short time since my skin began to itch and burn from the cold).

I didn't see any blue skies or sun breaking through clouds.

No blossoms or beautiful foliage.

No insects, no wildlife, not even a squirrel.

But I will show you one glimpse of beauty I found in our nearly dormant world.

A dead weed, growing behind a fence, bobbing back and forth in the wind.

And how is this beautiful?

It is beautiful because it is carrying its seed.

It is holding onto its promise of a tomorrow, a life cycle that continues even in the face of outward death.

It carries a new life that we cannot yet see. For from where we are now, we can only see the "deadness" of the plant, the grayness of the world. We can only feel that howling wind and stinging winter rain. But life is hiding inside those seeds - and it is beautiful.

Not long ago, I heard some interesting hypotheses from neuroscience about why negative thoughts are so prevalent in us humans. Why do we seem to remember and focus on the dreadful rather than the beautiful? It seems that we do this to protect ourselves. As a species, we would never survive if we forgot the dangers in our environment - but we could get by if we forgot the beauties. And the more dangers we have experienced, the more watchful and focused our psyches become to negative possibility. So focused, in fact, that we can walk through the world and not see or even remember the very thing we most need to nourish our souls. Little benefit if our species survives but our souls are starved for hope and meaning.

The gift of a "new year" is that it reminds us that we can always begin again. Of course, we do not need to wait until January to allow change into our lives. My life (and yours) is an ongoing journey through many seasons and terrains. There are times of beauty and times of barrenness. There are moments of breaking daylight and moments of chilling darkness. But in each of these, if we are open, if we remember, there is an invitation to be transformed by the Holy.

We will, of course, forget. We will forget the invitation and the promise that lies within it. Yet, as St. Benedict wrote, "Always we begin again." Each day - each moment - each breath - a new opporunity to open ourselves to the Gift.

Join me in remembering the beauty, in this short video offered as my gift to you for the New Year: