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At the turn of the year

What do you need to take up or lay down this year? asks Penelope Wilcock

If you think of a year as a day, I suppose in January and February we’d be at about three o’clock in the morning. We’ve gone down, down into the dark and cold, and we’re suspended in it, waiting for the light to come.

Such times are thresholds for the coming and going of souls. As a young woman, when I kept sheep and goats, the early morning would bring the discovery of a new lamb or kid, born into the world during the night’s quiet depths.

As a middle-aged woman working as a night care assistant, at two o’clock to three o’clock I would feel a shift, a moving down into profoundest night, like sinking into the earth, a time and place wrapped in silence. Just as those ewes lay themselves down to let their lambs come into the world, so old and tired souls often lay life down and steal home in those hours.

In the years when I had much to do with people dying and bereaved, January and February (and also the heat of August) were the months with the most funerals.

So I suppose, in terms of the circling seasons, we’re somewhere like Grand Central Station in the small hours of the night — a place of change, of coming and going, of souls beginning their journeys into and out of this world; arriving, leaving. And because we bring nothing into the world and can take nothing out of it, because in January the trees are bare and the ground barren, this is a time of great simplicity.

The months of hibernation and hours of sleep – when the blood of every living thing runs sluggishly, trees are dormant and seeds under the earth have not yet begun to stir – are also the time of dreams and stories. Like the children pushing aside the fur coats in the wardrobe into the snowy wonderland of Narnia, now is the time mystery opens to receive us — be that death or life.

Under the stars, as silent clouds drift across the face of the moon, we stand on this cold threshold. Here, for dying or for living, our journey begins. What will this new year bring? What must awaken in me and what must I relinquish?

On his deathbed, before he crossed over into new life, John Wesley’s last words were, “The best of all, is God is with us.”

New year, new start

What needs to grow?
What are your hopes for this new year? If, during the months ahead, you could choose to see one thing come to birth, that you have waited and longed for, what would it be? What would you like to nurture and develop, to grow on, as this new year unfolds?

What needs to end?
Making room for the new is impossible without letting go of the old. Imagine a tree that had hung onto every leaf and fruit it ever grew! Bereavement, oddly, is a component of hope. What must you now find the courage to let die, in your life? What is coming to a close for you?

What needs to change?
In his Epiphany poem Journey of the Magi, T S Eliot has the Wise Men visiting Jesus muse, “Were we led all that way for birth or death?” Christ’s birth opened a new order, ending the old. What changes will you ask God to make in your life this year? Where do you need renewal?

 

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