Traditions don’t happen overnight, they are built up over many years. Tonight we take part in a tradition that has been taking place for nearly forty years and for those who have never been here before I will just say a brief word as to how it began.
Life is a strange mixture of old and new, birth and death, beginnings and endings, welcomes and farewells. We all carry some sense of the sacredness of both and so we celebrate these significant times. From as far back as I can remember I have carried a sense of each New Year as being both sacred and important. Particularly those first few minutes of the New Year always seemed that bit extra sacred. It was like taking the first step into the unknown and it was so important to get it right. Like buttoning your shirt if you don’t start right nothing goes right. So as far back as I can remember, at least from the time I was seven or eight, I developed my own little ritual. I used to lie awake, or make sure I awoke about quarter to midnight, and get out of bed, go on my knees, place the future in the Lords hands and simply pray in the New Year. It was a sense of just me and God and knowing God was with me, it always felt like a majority.
The innocence of childhood gave way to New Year parties, dances and girlfriends but even when everyone was going wild at the magic hour and girls were ducking and diving to avoid being kissed by men they had been avoiding all year, yet when the clock struck 12 there remained a part of my soul that felt empty and hankered after that sacred space. So just after I was ordained I wondered if others felt the same way about creating and sharing a ritual to say farewell to the old year and welcoming in the new. Several suggested that they would be interested and so the tradition began, thirty-nine years ago in Cushinstown, where I was then, of having mass at 11.30pm that would incorporate a ritual of endings and new beginnings.
That tradition still continues and I am delighted that it now continues here in Our Lady’s Island. Numbers are never important. Even in small numbers we represent the larger community as we place this place, those who live here and the thousands who who visit in the Lords hands for 2020. Based on the past year we are likely to be entering into a rapid period of expansion with much increased numbers so its all the more important that we really pray the Lords blessing and guidance so that everything is in accordance with his will.
For living too much in the past with mistakes and regrets……..
For living too much in the future with its problems and fears…….
For failing recognize the present moment as pure gift……… At this moment we are standing on a threshold. It’s a threshold between the old year and the new year. It’s a threshold between an old decade and a new one and in the nature of things many of us won’t be hear to see another one. We also stand on a much more important threshold between what we are and what we can become.
Did you ever think about the word, ‘threshold’? It originally referred to the doorway that led to the room where the threshing of grain took place. This was where the chaff was separated from the wheat. It was then cleared away and the wheat was left ready for the making of bread. It’s worth remembering that the chaff also served a purpose, that of protecting the wheat as it grew and then there came a point of ripening for the wheat, where the husks became a burden and no longer serving a useful purpose needed to be discarded. So it is with ourselves. Old behavior patterns that served us well in the past can become an encumbrance. Defense walls we built around ourselves as children when we were in danger of being hurt just block our capacity for love as adults and even ways of thinking, particularly about ourselves, may be so limiting as to prevent us from becoming who we really are as adults.
I brought along a little visual aid that I made a few weeks ago that is also about a threshold moment. The little mouse is a symbol of curiosity as he stands in front of doors that are just about opening. The doorway is in the shape of a key and it’s the key that unlocks the door. How can we create the future that we want when we can’t even see beyond the door? Here I would suggest that we look at what our Christian tradition has to teach us; that the way of surrender is that all important key. There’s nothing like total and unconditional surrender to the Lord, of all that we have and all that we are, to act like the key that opens all doors to happiness, peace, contentment and fulfillment. Where there is absolute surrender, we become like Mary who in her ‘yes’ gave to God permission to do in her and through her all that he had decreed for all eternity. Where there is total surrender no force or circumstance can prevent divine destiny from unfolding.
So tonight is an opportunity let go of what no longer serves and welcome what is to come. A spiritual writer wrote one time that ‘Life by its very nature is full and overflowing with the new but it is necessary to empty out the old in order to make room for the new.’
While we gather as a community to cross this threshold together it is also a private crossing that has a deeply personal significance for all of us. For that reason I am not going to say much more but instead to lead you in a few moments of quiet and meditation where we can make this time very much our own.
So I invite you to make yourself comfortable in your seat with your back upright and your hands open on your lap and pointing upwards.
For a few moments just become aware of your breath, the breath that itself speaks of comings and goings, beginnings and endings, receiving and giving. Just allow the awareness of your breath to take to that deeper place in your heart, the place of the Divine where God dwells. It’s that place beyond stress and anxiety where all in well and all manner of things will be well.
With the awareness that the last minutes of 2019 are fast ebbing away just allow yourself to reflect on the year that is past; on its ups and downs; on its joys and sorrows. What was it like for you and what was it that held deepest significance for you in the past year.
Who were the significant people in your life? Who are the ones you are most grateful for? Bring their faces to mind.
Now hold in your awareness also the faces of those you may have had differences with and been the cause of struggle and pain. Be grateful for them also as they too came carrying gifts and had most to teach us.
Is there any particular lesson that you have learned in the past year that you would like to bring forward into coming year?
Is there any area where you might need to bring a greater sense of balance to your life?
Is there anyway you constantly find yourself reacting negatively to certain people or situations? Allow those times when we react rather than relate to come to our awareness.
Is there any chaff in my life that I am aware of that needs to be be blown away?
Now imagine your hands full with all the gifts of 2020. Whatever it holds for you is there, its blessings and gifts, its insights and awareness, its pains and its struggles. Now in order to receive, just open your hands a little wider and with a prayer of thanks release all that they hold and let them go to God so that your hands are now open to receive what is new.
Now just raise those hands as a gesture of openness and trust in God. See them holding all your loved ones, your concerns and fears, all your hopes and dreams for the future. See your very life in those raised hands as you offer them to God and take the first step into the New year.
Next look at those open hands that are now empty and see that they are also ready to receive, and know that it is through those same hands that God wants his life healing and creativity to flow in this coming year. Learn to love with those open hands all that God wants to bring to birth through you. Now offer Him those hands for use in his service
For what has been we say ‘Thanks’. For what will be we say ‘Yes’.
Reflection 3 P 83 - Parish Rituals