A transcript of a talk by Trevor Miller
I’ll start with some good news – it’s only 330 days to Christmas. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it that another year has passed. However, as we’re still less than a month into the New Year; we are still in that time frame when we think of new beginnings; new resolve to change; new intentions to make and keep New Year resolutions. I recall a note from Jeff, our Chairman of Trustees – ‘I read that the way to achieve inner peace was to finish the things I had started. Today, I’ve finished two bags of chips, a steak pie, a half bottle of Glenfiddich, and a box of chocolates. I feel better already.’
This concept of New Year resolutions has been with us since at least 150BC when the Romans named the first month of the year after Janus, the god of beginnings and the guardian of doors and entrances. He was always depicted with two faces, one on the front of his head and one on the back. Thus he could look backward and forward at the same time. At midnight on December 31, the Romans imagined Janus looking back at the old year and forward to the new. This awareness of change at this time of year is still with us, as people experience almost a spiritual sense of completion (of the previous year) and expectation (of the coming year).
So it’s still timely to ask, as individuals, and as a Community, what do we look forward to in this New Year? What is at the top of our wish list? What is the desire of our hearts? What are our hopes and dreams? All important questions not least because what we love and aim for shapes and defines us. As Thomas Merton so aptly put it, ‘Your life is shaped by the end you live for; you are made in the image of what you desire.’
Life is all about desire, purpose, passion, intention and aspiration. Isn’t this the reason why so many New Year resolutions don’t last long? They are fanciful whims driven by over indulgence rather than disciplined reality.
There is an old story of the Greek philosopher Socrates and his most famous student Plato. One day Plato went to Socrates, and asked, “How can I know what I wish to know about God and life?” Socrates said nothing; he just took him to the seashore, waded into the sea and held Plato’s head under water. Plato waited… and waited…. and waited… and gulped, and panicked. When he was almost lifeless, Socrates threw him on the shore. Plato was gasping for air, and after a few minutes managed to cry out, “I only asked a question, why did you try to kill me?” Socrates replied, “Tell me again, what your question was?” Plato said, “I wanted to know the secrets of the Universe!” Socrates said, “When you were under water, what was it you wanted?” Plato shouted “Air, to breathe!” Socrates said, “How bad did you want it?” Plato said, “It was all I could think about! My entire being was focused on getting air!” Socrates said, “When you want to know what you wish to know about God and life as much as you wanted air, it will come to you almost effortlessly.”
In monastic terms, this is ‘the one thing necessary’ and why seeking God is at the heart of our Rule and the central factor of our life – the resolve to seek God, cultivate the inner journey; know our true self; to learn how to better live with others and to serve the world of our influence whether that is great or small. This is our passion, our Reason to Be’, the aspiration and intention of all Companions in Community, at whatever time of the year. Such resolve has always been an important value to our Community but not only New Year resolutions rather each new day resolutions. We’ve learned it’s simply presumption to promise now that we’ll desire God everyday of this whole year, but we can say it a day at a time. We already have – ‘this day be within and without me’. For this day (Jan 29) when asked, Who is it that you seek? We answer that ‘we seek the Lord our God’ with ‘heart, soul, mind and strength’ for this day.
A saying of the Desert Fathers is so apt, ‘It was said of Abba Poeman that everyday he made a fresh beginning’. As Celtic Daily Prayer puts it, ‘This is a new day that has never been before. This year is a new year, the opening door’. Isn’t this something to celebrate; to know that as individuals (alone) and as Community (together) we are entering this New Year of 2014 with 336 days of fresh beginnings and opening doors stretching out before us?
So for us all, coming back to Merton ‘Your life is shaped by the end you live for; you are made in the image of what you desire.’ It seems that the only resolution needed for 2014 is to truly desire God, to seek Him, to live for Him in the manageable portions of a day at a time, so as to be shaped in His image.
In this we are greatly helped by the promises and purposes of God. One familiar scripture will suffice from Jeremiah. Writing to a people in exile; those ‘living in a strange land’ much like our own cultural situation God revealed his unchanging heart through Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.” This, seen in its context, is highly apt, ‘Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’. There it is again, the ‘one thing necessary’.