New Year’s Light

Maybe, like most good gifts, this year will take some time to get to know.

After all the gifts, one more. A new year ahead. A fresh start, if you want that, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need to change anything. You can just keep going.

There are loud voices at this time of year crowing about all the changes we can make. Be stronger, be thinner, be greener, be better. But newness comes with or without our effort. Newness is a gift. 

Another year now opens before us like a new room and its shape is still indistinct. The door is unlocked, the light already comes through towards us, but we can’t yet see what’s inside. Maybe, like most good gifts, this year will take some time to get to know.

Some things we can predict. For my household, (and judging from our son’s newly-wobbly teeth) this will be a year of change. The tooth fairy visits will be poignant because this son is our youngest. Our eldest child is choosing her high school courses this month and, next summer, our middle child will leave primary school behind. These are expected changes. We know there are shifting days ahead, but we have to wait to see what these changes will bring and what that will feel like. Other changes and other newnesses will come and surprise us, and there is mystery in that which brings with it a timely call to faith. 

Many kinds of peace
Before Christmas, I spent some time reading poetry for a family Advent project. I wanted to find poems or prayers that spoke to each of the themes we used with the candles on our Advent wreath. Of them all – hope, joy, peace and love – I found peace the hardest. Too often, poets seem to reduce peace to a comfortable, even cosy, feeling or a settled moment of rest. In this charged world, that kind of peace doesn’t feel big enough.

Then I found Isaiah on the Poetry Society website. The Society was selling off posters they’d used on the London Underground, and a verse from the King James Bible had been published as part of collection of war poems which also included work by Wilfred Owen and Carol Ann Duffy.

“And they shall beate their swords into plow-shares, 

And their speares into pruning hookes:

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, 

Neither shall they learne warre any more.”

These are radically strong images of transformative peace. I found that the archaic spelling slowed my reading just enough to bring newness to the familiar words, encouraging me to think about what it means to learn war and what it might mean instead to learn peace. So I bought the poster. We read it together slowly, wondering together about the images. The blacksmith’s shop, the effort needed to work metal, the changing work of nurturing a garden. Peace is like all those things. It is hard work that brings renewal and sustenance. I think we’ll frame this poster and hang it in the kitchen. Good words to have above the kitchen table.

The second helpful piece I found wasn’t familiar at all. It’s a prayer published in a Congregationalist book called Contemporary Prayers for Public Worship in 1967, and it speaks of many kinds of peace, all active, all requiring effort and wisdom. We wrote these words in bright colours on a paper tablecloth and set our Advent candles among them: a prayer for light in changing times.

“Show us, Good Lord, the peace we should seek,

the peace we must give, the peace we can keep,

the peace we must forgo, and the peace you have given in Jesus our Lord.”

May this new year bring you and your family profound and challenging peace and continuing reassurance in the unfolding mystery of Love.


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