Today is the Eve of the Feast of the Holy Name, the seventh day after Jesus’ birth, and the appointed day for his circumcision, fulfilling the covenant made between the Holy One and Abraham. And while circumcision is no longer a sign of the covenant, and we confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, we grow by yearning for something new, a new start, a new beginning, and so on to New Year.
Here we are, after the quiet and meditative month of Advent, a joyous Christmas, and back in the confusion of too much of everything. Returning gifts, spending more as the last gasp of sales seduce us, and then the New Year celebration. Our liturgical new year started on the first Sunday of Advent. While many cultures celebrate the beginning of a new year at different times of year, the Equinoxes and Solstices being most common, our culture has settled on January 1, which we know to be the day Jesus was sanctified into the covenant of the Jewish people. And we mark the day by changing the calendar date to a new number in the Common Era, which dates from the birth of Jesus.
So let’s settle back down to peace, the Peace of God. That peace in the Savior is grounded in stability, even when our lives are constantly changing. Our New Year Eve is marked by a kind of Saturnalia or Carnival. Overindulgent parties, and too much to drink. And the most elegant and glitzy clothes possible. A major shift from the holiness of Christmas just one week ago which followed weeks of the preparation of Advent. And tomorrow, a whole rash of resolutions, most of which are vowed (yes, vowed) without discernment or plan, and as often as not predicated on what others think we should be doing. Weight loss, healthy diet, and exercise are high on the list. Stop smoking was another, and may still be. Good things, in and of themselves, but these resolutions rarely last through the month. We have another option. We can think of God first. What can we resolve that will be supportive of our faith, and supported by the Holy Spirit? If diet and exercise come from that foundation, we have a better chance of being disciplined and succeeding if we are doing it to stay healthy and balanced for our God and the mission of the Kingdom on earth. And for living our lives more intentionally as Jesus taught us in Scripture.
The Daily Office for the eve of Holy Names (Isa. 65:15b-25; Rev. 21:1-6) both tell of a new world, a new Jerusalem, a new start, so how can we bring this about starting on this Feast day. Perhaps we can reach out in that yearning for a newness, for a hunger for God and the Light of the world which we just felt so strongly during Advent and on Christmas day, by beginning or shoring up a daily spiritual practice, but one based on what is possible and some discernment.
Rule 1: Be realistic. I have a lot of time to pray and study, and I am vowed to keep a rule, but it never hurts to check in. I know families with small children who pray as a family at least once a day. I also know a lot of people who scramble 16 hours a day, come home and collapse. Unless you are called by the Spirit and your life style permits hours of prayer a day, don’t set a goal which you can’t keep. A few minutes before bedtime, even if it begins only with an Our Father when you brush your teeth, is just fine. For a start. Lent is a good time to see if it is time increase the commitment, at least for the 40 days. Or not. Pray on it. Ask God, with the help of the Spirit, what is best for you at that time. Get used to talking to and listening to God. That is what Jesus gave us when he said to know him is to know his Father and be children by adoption. God the Father is your Abba, your daddy, and loves you. Trust in God.
Rule 2: You may find you try something, but it just doesn’t feel comfortable to you. Or it is too hard or alien without serious preparation, but you are not ready for that now. But you have to start somewhere. Be brave. Try something. Permit yourself to make changes if you find you must. But when you do, consult the Holy One in prayer. “This isn’t working. Help me. I will keep with this for three more days, and then I would like to move to another form of prayer/meditation. Or simplify what I am doing. Your will be done, Abba.” This is not failure. This is discernment, and it is good.
Rule 3: When you do commit, and you feel the peace and joy of it, and then you hit a bump, don’t change anything. Stick it out. Stability takes courage. And check in with the Spirit a lot.
Take the period from today until the Epiphany, on January 6, for a trial run. Here are a couple of ideas. 1) The Good Old Way: A prayer at bedtime of the God Bless Mommy and Daddy variety, a simple prayer for your life and world. Don’t forget thanksgiving for the good things. 2) One of the shorter family prayer offices from the Prayer Book, pp. 136 -140, alone or with family or friends. 3) Search for electronic sources. The Book of Common Prayer is on line. Many forms of shared prayer and Scriptural reflection are available online (like the Episcopal Café! Also, the Forward movement, Living Church, and several monastic orders offer daily readings). 4) Self examination each day. An old practice, but refined by St. Ignatius Loyola. You can find rules for this online or from any copy of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. An accessible and modern source is in a short book by Rev. Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ, Reimagining the Ignatian Examen. Briefly, compose yourself with a short prayer or silence, give thanks, ask the Spirit for help, review the day, stop and inspect what makes you feel you have turned from God and ask for reconciliation, and finally think about the next day. What is most important if you wish to explore this powerful tool for discipline and obedience to God is that this is not a blame-game. It is a way of looking back on your day to see what felt good (Spirit driven), and what made you feel not quite right, and presenting it to God for teaching, correction, and forgiveness. Be honest with God and yourself. This will keep you on track for growing deeper in faith and love of God. 4) A new tool is Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s teaching on the Way of Love (https://www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love), a study plan for growing in the Love of God and the Way of Jesus.
That should do for a start. You have a lifetime until you go to God and all is forgiven and all tears are wiped away by the Holy One. Happy New Year, and Happy Halfway to Epiphany.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.