New Year’s is just one more day. Another random 24 hours.
But its ‘bridge role’ or ‘position’ on the calendar makes us hyper-aware — of the passing of time, of the 12 months past and what we hope or fear lies ahead… Maybe, as we age, the movement from one year to the next even pushes us to recollect times long behind us. Hence, with the various paths we have traveled more in our recollection, we turn to resolutions and other reflections that lift up the choices and different paths we may find before us.
I guess any greater awareness of our choices and actions is empowering and good. A help really: as for most of us there are ways we should probably improve our lives. That’s the reason why, as a church community, we turn to God in confession every week. Because we could — probably should — do better. (When you think of it, a whole host of holidays and occasions have a “new beginning” theme — I suspect because it’s such a common need!)
Oddly, or counter-intuitively, in this last E-pistle of the year, I want to recommend the value of getting lost sometimes. Seasonally, I could point to the Wise Ones, who after visiting Jesus and warned in a dream, go home by another way. Or Jesus, Mary and Joseph who disappear from Bethlehem… for good reasons. There can be pragmatic reasons for going astray. I also believe in the grace of stepping aside sometimes, like Jesus heading for the far side of the lake. Or the necessity of space for ‘personal-innovation’ and ‘trying on’ different senses of yourself and futures for your life.
I just came across this passage in Andre Acimen’s “Call Me By Your Name.” They are the words of a professor to his 24-year old intern, intimating but not quite detailing how the professor’s life has gone astray and let him down. The professor is really just trying to position himself in some solidarity with his young intern, and also with his 17-year old son, who are experimenting with their lives, trying to figure themselves out.
“That’s because you see me as a figure. Not a human being. Worse yet, an old figure.
But there were mistaken turns, that is. Everyone goes through a period of “traviamento,” (Italian for ‘wandering astray’ or ‘backsliding’) when we take, say, a different turn in life. The other “via.” Dante himself did.
Some recover. Some pretend to recover. Some never come back. Some chicken out before even starting, and some for fear of taking any turns find themselves leading the wrong life all life long.”
I like that. In the context of the novel, it’s permission-giving, Better to stumble and have lived than never to have fallen because you never really lived. Ironically. It’s o.k. to wander sometimes. We all need to go astray sometimes. Or else, we might end up leading the wrong life! (In the novel, one is left with the suspicion that the professor might be confessing, that he is such a person, who somehow ‘missed’ his life).
I think the takeaway is that at least in certain situations getting lost may be the only way to find yourself. Jesus said something like that. There’s freedom in wandering off. In church circles, we call it a “retreat.” And detours — intentional or unexpected — can turn out to be the best way to get where you are going. Sometimes, going where one didn’t want to go or mean to go is about “thy will, not my will be done.”
That said, as the parent of a child who spent his early teens “running prodigal” while, his mother and I worried he was in significant danger — one can probably only be thankful for some miles or months astray’ in hindsight, after the fact, when the risk is past and the reward, even if hard-won, is clear. Other “times astray” might not have as much threat involved.
Bobbie has told me that she bridles a bit at the line in the UCC’s affirmation of faith that reads, “Save us from aimlessness and sin.” Her point, I think, is that aimlessness is not always sinful. Or even necessarily negative. Sometimes, it’s productive. Or at least necessary. And restful. There is the aspect of life in which much of what we most need to learn comes from play after all.
So, it’s almost a New Year. It’s been a hard 2017. I hope you traveled some good roads, even if they turned out to be byways. Or dead ends (where, incidentally, there can be much to be gained nonetheless).
The first months of the coming year may not promise to be easier, but may they surprise us in unexpected way — despite our expectations. And whatever way we take or find ourselves on, may we remain playful in spirit and open to that which is so much more than us and anything we can comprehend in our outlook.
Take the long view: not everything needs to happen right away. Give God time to show us some other ways. Or time for us to catch up with God and realize where we are, where we have been and where we are going.
Accept that following a man whose whole life was spent on foot (not always on dry land! oh, ok, there might have been a donkey ride in there too), there may not be so many direct routes. Slow down and realize that the journey may be destination. Enjoy the scenery. Rest stops, delays, setbacks — they can be part of a plan that is bigger than us, especially when it is taking much longer to get where we are to go. Or if in the end, we find out that ours is a different destination than we wanted or expected.
None of this is counsel against intentionality. I often say I can put up with a lot of the foolishness and nonsense that one finds at church because still and all, I don’t know of many other places where people have gathered in hopes of living better lives. Let’s be about making better lives and a better world. But let’s remember how much grace is needed in that recipe.
It’s all up to us. Beloved, there are choices that make all the difference in the world. But let us remember in humility — there is no way that is beyond God, beyond God’s reach or beyond God’s love. So we keep trying and trusting in grace, even if the path takes you where you least expected. Or maybe, you need to run off and get lost for a bit.
See you in church,