Saturday, 31 December 2016

New Years Day

Happy New Year. 

Today is the first of January, the beginning of a new year, New Years Day.It is a day on which traditionally we are meant to pause and evaluate our lives, the state of our own being, and perhaps the state of the world in which we live. A day when we are meant to assess what can be done better and also perhaps what needs to change, what needs to be let go of. Perhaps today, more than any other day, we are meant to practice discernment, to sift through our lives, like prospectors panning for gold, we are meant to separate what is of use and what is not. We are meant to sort the wheat from the chaff. In so doing we may well find the most precious gem stones of our lives.

On this day, as we sift through our lives, we may note the size of our waistlines or other measures of our physical well-being? We may well assess our bank balances, how expensive has Christmas been this year? We may well take a look at our wardrobes. Perhaps we will look at the state of our relationships, with lovers and spouses, with families and with friends. We may also look at the state of our employment.

This time of year is often one when people commit to make changes. I know my gym will be over populated this week, no doubt groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Slimming World and other organisations I know intimately, will have much higher attendance rates over the next few weeks. I also know that by February things will have returned back to their normal rate.

Yes this time of year, for so many of us, is a time of assessment, a time when people often feel dissatisfied with aspects of their lives and as a result commit to change, believing that if they change certain aspects of their lives, their troubles will come to an end and everything will suddenly magically be different.

For better or for worse today is a day of measurement; today is a day where we assess where we have been and perhaps where we are going. In Ancient Rome it was the day of worship of the God Janus, the God with two faces, one looking into the future and the other into the past. The God of gateways, of thresholds of the space of change. Today is meant to be the one when we make decisions about what needs to change. The truth is though, that it is a day just like any other day and every day, just like every in moment, everything changes and yet somehow everything stays the same.

Life has taught me many lessons One of the most important being that the only thing permanent in life is change. “Nothing ever lasts for ever” as Echo and the Bunnymen once sang. Life is impermanent. We are all guests in life. We cannot cling to anything. Whatever we are feeling or experiencing right now, “This too shall pass”.

Impermanence is the beauty and the energy of life. Life is forever changing and transforming and turning into something new. Nothing ever stays exactly the same and nothing is ever repeated in exactly the same way again. This was wonderfully expressed by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus some 2,500 years ago. Who said, among many other things, “Everything flows, nothing stands still.” “No one ever steps into the same river twice.” And “Nothing endures but change.” He was saying that the only constant in life was and is change, that life was constantly in flux and that everything is impermanent.

So often in life we try to cling to things, to hold on to things to maintain things exactly as they are. This seems to be going against life and the nature of things. Nothing stays exactly as it is in its current nature, everything changes from moment to moment and to resist this is to resist life. Yes everything changes but life goes on.

The mistake we often make is to try to cling onto things, whatever that might be, in fear. In so doing we fail to experience life itself. We resist the beauty and the power of life.

 As I look back at the year, that has passed, so much seems different and yet if truth be told much is still the same. Much has changed in regard to my own experiences of my personal life. 2016 may well, on a personal level, have been the greatest of my life. If you had told me what was to come at the beginning of last year I would not have believed you. I’m not talking about my personal awards and achievements either, what I’m really talking about is my own experience of my own physical being and how this has opened me up to new and exciting experiences I would never have dreamed possible. I have been set free from so many shame filled chains that for so many years had bound me. So personally speaking 2016 was one of unimagined wonder. I could not be more grateful. I also know if I continue the way I have lived for the last 13 or more years that greater personal freedom will come. Many years ago I learnt the power of living by faith and hope and love and I will continue to do so; I will continue to follow this simple and beautiful way of living.

That is not to say that 2016 was all beautiful and wonderful. As I look around at the world in which I live I witness much that disturbs me. Division and fear does seem to be on the increase as does instability. The political landscape has changed these last 12 months and has left an increasing sense of fear for many of us. And yet as I walk around the town in which I live everyday, life is much the same. People are much the same as they have always been. Yes everything changes and yet somehow everything still seems much the same. People are the same as they have always, let us not become victims of our own bad dreams.

Life is constantly changing, nothing ever stays exactly the same and no moment is exactly like any other. We all experience these moments differently too; we each bring our pasts with us into each moment and this always impacts on the present.

That said despite the changing nature of our material lives there are things that do seem permanent, that do not change. There are some things that hold us and sustain us despite the constant changing nature of life. The last thirteen years of my life has proven this to me, there have been three unchanging things that have held and sustained me and kept me open to life despite its uncertainty. Things that have held me even during some deeply painful experiences. The three are faith, hope and love.

It was Paul of Tarsus, in the 13th Chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians who named these three that have held me and led me these last thirteen years. I have seen many others held by them too, through many storms in their lives. There is something eternal about them, something universal and they were at work long before he wrote about them. We can rely upon these three, but only if we nurture and strengthen them. We can depend upon these three faith, hope and love. But what do these three mean?

Faith is about trusting in life itself; it is about living as openly and honestly as possible; it is about accepting that there is pain in life, but that there is also so much joy; it is realising that the mere fact that we exist at all is life’s greatest gift. This allows us to sing the joy of living, in all its mystery. It is also about seeing that we are all in this together, that we all live in the one lifeboat. We need to connect as much as possible to the boat of life in which we share. We need to ensure that our lifelines are secure and not worn or frayed at the edges. This is something we need to hold onto and not let go of. Why, you may well ask? Well because it sustains us through the vicissitudes of life. Life does not offer much certainty, but we need not despair at this, or at least not stay in despair.

Hope is the second of those eternal, universal truths. Hope is rooted in despair; it grows from the same place. To live in hope is to believe that if we live with conviction and compassion that we can effect positive change in our world, even if we ourselves do not get see to see its full fruition. Hope is about planting those seeds when and where ever we can.

To live with hope is to live with the attitude that the future is genuinely open. The God of my understanding works with us and guides us but leaves life open, it is not pre-ordained. “The Lure of Divine Love” draws us out of ourselves, but it also allows life to develop freely. I accept that the past does have power, I have a strong sense of history, this is very important. That said I do not believe that the past defines the future, not everything is inevitable. The future is unwritten.

Life is definitely a journey worth taking, even during its toughest moments. Yes we all despair at times and we all live with uncertainty, but the beacon of hope is always there. The writer of the book of proverbs reminds us “Where there is no vision (no hope) the people perish.” Hope is a vital lifeline it both holds and sustains us. It is an eternal and universal principle and one that also requires nurture.

What about love? How can it sustain us? By the way I am not talking of romance here, I am talking of spiritual love. Spiritual love is that power that connects us to our true selves, one another, the life we share and whatever it is that connects all life. What I myself call God; that power that is greater than all and yet present in each. It is love that powers the lifeboat, that puts wind in its sails. Love is about caring deeply and passionately about life itself. This of course requires attention; it is a life line that requires nurture. Love reminds me that we do not live for ourselves alone or by ourselves alone. “no man is an island” or as Kurt Vonnegut once put it “one human being is no human being”. The universal and eternal truth is that we need the love, the care, the companionship of others in order to fully experience what it is to be alive. By ourselves we are never fully alive.

If we live by these three faith, hope and love we will know what it means to truly live and experience the joy of living, even in the dark days.

Today, New Year’s Day, is a day of new beginnings; today is a day when if we want to commit to anything perhaps we ought to commit to beginning again in love.

New Years Day is a time for new beginnings, a time for hope of what might be and a time to reflect on what has been before us. And yet it is just a day, much like any other day really. The sun has risen, as it has always risen and in a few hours time it will set, as it has always set.

So let’s look forward with new eyes, with fresh eyes. Let’s look back and commit to learn from our pasts. Let’s learn to live with increased faith, hope and love.

Whatever this year brings us, let us resolve to build lives of faith, hope and love.

 Let’s begin again this day and every day in love.

I will end with some words of beginning by Edward Searl

Always there is a beginning —
a new day,
a new month,
a new season,
a new year.

Forever the old passes away 
and newness emerges
from the richness that was.

Nothing is ever lost
in the many changes
time brings.

What was, in some way,
will be,
though changed in form.

Know this:
This moment is a beginning;
and your lives,
individually and together,
are full of richness, of freshness,
of hope and of promise.

From “We Pledge Our Hearts” by Edward Searl

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