Rev. Bruce G. Epperly, PhD
In my first piece in this series (March 2022), I began with a quote from United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold (1953-1961), whose book Markings I read each year, either on New Year’s Day or my Fall birthday. This year I read it on my seventieth birthday.
It both inspires and challenges me as I ponder endings and beginnings, and gratitude and adventure.
For all that has been – thanks!
For all that shall be – yes!
This short poem describes the intersection of past and present, and the blessings of the past and our hopes for a new year.
“For all that has been – thanks!” This has been a challenging year, and the international and national challenges have been mirrored in many of our personal lives. We have been unsettled by the invasion of Ukraine, Supreme Court decisions, the continuation of the “big lie” in elections, and the public rise and apparent acceptance in many Christian quarters of white supremacy and neo-fascism. We have faced changes in our personal lives that may have been equally dramatic in our micro world. My wife and I continue to adapt to retirement (now 18 months in), balancing in my case, writing, teaching at our and at the seminary, occasional pulpit supply, with a new spaciousness in terms of time and care for our grandchildren.
Each morning as I take my pre-dawn walk, often with foxes and deer as my only companions some mornings, I give thanks in the silence, and each day there is much for which to be thankful: the quiet of the morning with no sounds of dropping bombs, the ability to walk, my early morning writing, my sleeping wife, having a lovely home and neighborhood, family nearby, good enough health to do what I want, the hope of travel, my grandchildren and their family, the opportunity to teach and write, a good pension with the UCC and TIAA which gives me the freedom to choose when to take on a class, sermon, or consultation.
Gratitude puts my worries – often small by comparison to others – in perspective and is an anti-dote to impatience and complaining. Meister Eckhardt said that if the only prayer you make is “thank you,” that will suffice. God has brought us safe thus far, and we give thanks that God’s grace will lead us home.
At New Year’s, there is also the big “yes” of what is to be. What will the next year or decade be like? At seventy, I hope for another decade of creativity and health. I take confidence in studies that suggest that the decade between seventy and eighty is the second most creative time of life, with the sixties, the most creative. Grounded in gratitude, I can embrace the “yes” of the future, joining my plans and vision with the uncertainties of life, and trusting that I will receive the inspiration and energy to respond to whatever comes my way.
At New Year’s, we can, like the African Sankofa bird, look backward and forward. Amid the parades, football games, celebrations, and family gatherings, we can spend time giving thanks, and “count our blessings,” naming them “one by one.” We can count the blessings of resilience in times of challenge, the gift of vaccines and health care, people who have supported us and whose love sustains us, and our own achievements. We can, as a young child added to his prayers, “thank God for being God,” and making a way where we thought there was no way.
We can spend time on the “yes” of the future. Where is the future calling you? Where are your gifts meeting the world’s needs? What new thing beckons you – a trip, volunteer project, new avocation, care for your health? We can name these one by one, and then pray for guidance in embodying the most important of these callings in the year ahead and working for a world in which what we take for granted can become the norm. We can ask God to give us the ability to see new possibilities and notice holy encounters and new friendships. Providence is constantly placing possibilities in our lives, and occasionally we notice. We can ask God for greater vision and the energy and insight to act on these visions.
This is not pie-in-the-sky but a recognition that with the New Year, when we woke up on January 1, we can be “woke” to a world of challenge and possibility. We can seize the day that God has made. Rejoice in the wonder of life and be God’s companions in bringing healing and wholeness to the world.
For all that has been – thanks!
For all that shall be – yes!.