2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
We are on the threshold of a new year. It is a wonderful time to reexamine this past year of our life. Have we grown emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, or has just another year passed? I’ve heard people describe themselves as having 30 years of experience. But is that really true? Do we have 30 years of experience, or do we have one year of experience repeated 30 times? Do we still live a life to meet other people's expectations? Do we behave in a particular manner because that's what we're "supposed to do?" Do we have a specific vocabulary, mind-set, religious belief, political bent, attitude toward others, because of the influence of others?
Many of us want to make changes in how we think, behave, and speak. We want to get better, be smarter, learn a skill, lose weight, and get in better shape, yet we don’t change our behavior. We want to lose weight, but we don’t change how we eat or how much we move our bodies. We want to be smarter, but we don’t read anything more, study, or listen to or seek out new ideas.
We are taught in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I’ve heard it said that we can predict a person’s future pretty much by simply examining what they’ve done over the last few years. Most people tend to stay the same, do the same things, invest the same way, read the same amount, and use their time the same way. The secret to our success in any area is hidden in our daily routine. Tweak what we do daily, and we get very different results. Change how we think about someone or something, and we change what Life reflects to us. When we stop conforming to the patterns taught by the world – the short sightedness, prejudices, self-centeredness, indifference, and division - we open opportunities to transform our selves, lives, attitudes, and perspectives.
Next week is burning bowl Sunday, one of my favorite Sundays of the year. It is a spiritual celebration and ritual in which we release the things that we don't want or need any longer. With the rebirth of the Christ spirit within us, we take a fresh new look at our lives. We begin again. Of course, we have choices: we can continue along the path we have been pursuing, or we can change direction.
Between now and next week, we might want to make a 2023 review of our life. Do we have baggage, whether emotional, physical, or mental, that we would like to be rid of? Do we have skills that we'd like to develop, talents we'd like to bolster? Do we have counterproductive behaviors that we'd like to replace with more constructive behaviors? What are our strengths? What are we good at? What have we done this year that has given us pleasure? How have we been in service to our family, friends, our church, our community, or other people? What new things have we learned, and are they worthy of our attention and application?
As a world, we learned many new things in 2023. Here are a few things research revealed that caught my eye. From the land of science, we learned that the contrasting white and black spots on a monarch butterfly’s create an uneven pattern of cooling and heating. This results in swirling air around the spots, which can provide some extra lift for their wings. This discovery will be applied to our aeronautics engineering knowledge to enable more efficient drones and other flying devices.
New research shows that tears from women contain chemicals that block aggression in men. The study finds that sniffing tears leads to reduced brain activity related to aggression, which results in less aggressive behavior. Not sure how we are going to implement that.
A new study reveals a link between regular exercise and better brain health. Researchers looked at MRI brain scans from 10,125 people. It found those who regularly engaged in physical activities such as walking, running, or sports had larger brain volumes in key areas. This includes gray matter, which helps with processing information, and white matter, which connects different brain regions, as well as the hippocampus, important for memory. David Merrill, MD, and co-author of the study said this: “We found that even moderate levels of physical activity, such as taking fewer than 4,000 steps a day, can have a positive effect on brain health.”
But back to our own lives, let us review our 2023 as objectively as possible. The goal is to look at our life non-judgmentally, as much from a God-perspective as possible. Let’s see ourselves as a divine spiritual being, and know that we are in the process of becoming a better human being. We can consider what endings to bring to completion so that we can start our new beginnings.
Philosopher and spiritual teacher, Ken Wilbur, suggests that the evolution of all phenomena occurs through “transcending and including”. Things don’t totally change and become something new; the old is not wiped out. Rather, transformation occurs through including ‘what was’ into a more complex matrix. Over thousands of years of human evolution, rational thought has not eliminated emotion, but has included it into a greater developmental level of consciousness. At our best, as a species we are intelligent and compassionate, thinking and feeling organisms capable of dynamic, creative, and complex interaction and problem solving.
New beginnings are born out of former endings and previous attempts. We try to teach our children this lesson: put things away before you pull out new toys to play with. We don’t throw away a toy before we play with another, no. We include it in our assortment of possible toys; it is a valuable component within our growing compilation of joy. We must do the same in our own lives; put away the old before embracing the new, while allowing the best of the old to remain a part of who we are.
Our challenge in this process is releasing what is broken and cannot be repaired or is no longer necessary. Sometimes we can't see what is unnecessary in our own lives but see it clearly in other people's lives. Often, we know exactly what needs to be released, but we cling to it anyway, secure in our habits and its familiarity.
We use December 25th as the birthday of Jesus and use Christmas as the time to fill with giving, love, hope, peace, and life, but we can celebrate Christmas daily. We can always be loving and giving and filled with peace and joy. Christ can be reborn within us every day.
The same is true with beginnings, because Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. Although we take the end of a calendar year to symbolize the time to begin again – out with the old, in with the new – we also know that daily we have the capability to begin again. Daily, we can release our old unproductive ways and initiate the new. We can transcend what we were while including all the good, beneficial, and honorable of us and letting go of the ineffective, hurtful, and useless.
Therapist Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.”
That is what Christ brings to us… a chance to start again, to move forward under new guidance. Christ offers us a new path and new choices. Our old habits and thought patterns, other people’s opinions and expectations have no power over us except what we allow. We alone determine our actions, beliefs, and thoughts. We can change; we can make another choice.
So, let us take a good long look at ourselves this week: examining our life as we celebrate the New Year, the new moment, the new ‘now’. As Meister Eckhart wrote, “Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”
“Behold, the new has come,” and it is my prayer that we choose to begin again, releasing what is no longer working to our best advantage and trying something new. Isaiah 43:19 tells us, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” This is what Christ whispers as Spirit reveals new lighted paths within the chaos of our minds and creates newness within our hearts and souls to replace the staleness and static.
There is no shame in wanting to be a better person and making the active attempt. We are all in the process together, sharing experiences, growing together. I pray that we will support each other and all those in our lives who attempt to change, evolve, and transcend. I pray that we will encourage people to pursue the perfect plans that God has for us by recognizing and appreciating Christ in ourselves and each other. I wish you a joyous, abundant, health-filled, peace-filled, and loving New Year.