“This middle age is such a crazy road. You can see behind you. And you can see ahead to the end.” — Margaret Reid Boyer, a Brooklyn artist, quoted in the NYTimes, Nov. 13, 2013.
As church folk, we’re pretty used to the biblical verse that reminds us we only see through a glass darkly. Only later will we be able to see face to face. But, still, it is important to make a deliberate attempt to look and see what you can.
The artist’s quote above speaks of the weirdness of life’s middle years. You might also find in them an opportunity. An opportunity, I want to suggest, that, regardless of your age, this time of year also affords.
We may not always realize it, but sight doesn’t happen automatically. Even when our eyes are open! Because we spend a lot of our lives in a mode where we aren’t even looking, much less seeing. Most of our time is busily focusing on what’s right at the end of our noses. Sometimes we shut our eyes tight, even when they remain physically open.
So we fail to look behind us as well of in front of us. We also often fail to look deliberately sideways, to look around and notice people we might otherwise miss.
Consider this: when one comes upon a particularly far-reaching vantage point on life — from where one can see the road traveled behind or make out some of the twists and turns ahead — it’s often surprising, even when you know to expect it. I’m thinking of a certain spot on the highway on a road trip I often make, at the top of a ridge, you can see both ways for miles. But the vantage point can also be an important birthday or anniversary. Or the opportunity to go back to some place that was important to you.
Why is such a view surprising? Because we are so often intent on clinging to our present. Consciously or not, we’re ducking our struggle with, even sparing ourselves the bother of “bigger pictures.” For many of us, our daily lives are enough of a challenge to consume us!
But, I’m suggesting, we miss great resources when we avoid the long views and thoughtful reflections. Because our looking over what is behind us and some imaginative forethought about what lies ahead could make the living of today so much richer.
The year’s end offers a chance to look back over our days, weeks, months and years. And also to look ahead. The days are short; there’s more darkness. Which, ironically, can help us to be more intentional about the light we need to see.
This year, our Jewish neighbors’ Hanukkah celebrations — when the oil in the candles in the newly reconsecrated Temple sufficed to keep God’s light shining — begins on Thanksgiving night. It’s the first time for such an overlap since 1888, and it might not happen again until 79,811. Now if that isn’t an opportunity one doesn’t want to miss?
For the next 8 nights, candles will burn in homes and on window sills to remind Jews (and the rest of us) of God’s provision and promise. How have God’s promises been fulfilled in your life? How has God provided for you? What are you yet waiting on?
Advent and the new church year starts just a few days later on Sunday, Dec. 1. We will progressively light four candles as we prepare for the birth of the Christ child. This is how the church year gets started each year.
What did we accomplish in the church year just past? What do we hope to get done in the year ahead? What should you set right in your life as on the way to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus? How could Jesus be born in your life anew? If Christmas is God trying something different, what different endeavors, perspectives and ways are calling you?
Finally, there’s New Year’s Eve, the New Year and the first month of 2014, named for Janus, the Roman God of new beginnings and transitions, who, therefore, is represented as having two faces, so he can both look back and look ahead.
Amidst all the busyness, can we make some quiet time for reflection? Can we take advantage of the long nights to look for light in our own history and in our future?
What have we accomplished?
What is left undone?
Where are we headed?
Or more basically: who are you and who are you becoming?
Remember to remember. Look forward to looking ahead.
See you in church,