Happy New Year, Happy Christmas, or simply Hello. These are all ways in which we might greet each other at this time of year. Whilst we are all familiar with January being a time of fresh beginnings and new resolutions, what you might say all depends on the type of calendar you are following: the Gregorian, Julian, Islamic, Jewish or Chinese.
The truth is that the way we measure time can sometimes be a peculiar thing. Depending on what we are doing and how happy we are, life can either go quickly or drag along slowly. As Shakespeare observed:
Time travels in divers paces with divers persons.
I’ll tell you who Time ambles withal, who Time trots withal,
who Time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal.
As You Like It, Act III, Scene 2
For most of us it will be the month of January when we look at ourselves and decide if the way time travels for us is at the right pace and heading in the right direction. We tend go about this by deciding what we are going ‘to do’ about it. Is this the year we are going to lose a bit of weight or find a new job? January is aptly named for this as it is derived from the pagan god Janus who had two heads, one for looking back and one for looking forwards. The start of a new year provides us with the energy to try and do new things.
Yet within the Christian calendar, another way to look at this time of year can be found. One thing I like about the Church calendar is that the 40 days after Christmas follow along the first 40 days in the life of Jesus until his Presentation at the Temple on 2nd February. This was a time when Jesus, as a vulnerable small baby, was not about to do anything. All he could do was ‘be’ in the loving arms of Mary and Joseph.
Imitating the example of Jesus we could approach this time of year not by worrying about what we are going to ‘do’ to make our lives better. Instead we can practice ‘being’, just like a small baby. We can do this by trying to live in the present moment, to be fully attentive to those around us, to slow down, and to live the next 40 days, one by one. In so doing, we can give space in our lives to discover or re-discover that which is most important. In the words of the 14th century German mystic, Meister Eckhart ‘The most important hour is always the present. The most significant person is the one sitting across from you right now. The most necessary work is always love’.
Whatever this time of year means to you, I wish you well in your endeavours.
The Revd Tim Vickers
Assistant Curate – St Mary’s Church, Redbourn