For the last few years, I've spent the days leading up to the new year in the cozy confines of a retreat center in western Massachusetts. While friends send text messages about New Year's Eve, I share silence with a group taking a prayerful pause at year's end. In silent, guided reflection there is the invitation to reflect on all that has been, to pray for all that will be, and to bless the time we have.
Without fanfare, one year flows into another. Peacefully, like fresh, unblemished snow, a new year begins.
There are few times in our normal lives that we as a society pause to reflect on what is, what has been, and what lies ahead. Yet, as the frenetic pace of preparing for Christmas comes to an end, the opportunity to make an account of our year becomes an invitation, whether you're on retreat or not. Here in the still and quiet winter days following Dec. 25, a hush falls over us. Christmas, we know, lasts more than just one day, and as we settle into the season we find that to reflect on the nativity of Jesus also draws us into reflecting on the realities of God's love incarnate in our lives this year.
Making the time and space for such reflection deepens our sense of the season while also inviting us to make an account of all that we (and God) have been up to. There is a grace and a gift to such reflection if we can intentionally take the time to sit with God and see where the year has taken us individually and collectively.
How have you grown? Where has God been evident? What were the blessings of this year? What has given you energy and life? Where in your life are you being invited to be more attentive? What can you hand over to God to share the load? What are the gifts or what are the graces you need most at this time in your life?
Like any relationship, our own relationship with God benefits from renewal and reflection from time to time. Year's end and the beginning of a new year lend themselves to such practices, as, collectively, we as a culture set goals and make resolutions to begin again.
Reflecting back on the year and how we've come to where we stand today, though, are only one part of the equation. At New Year's Eve, we stand on the brink of something new and unknown. One foot is planted in what has been, while the other moves forward into what will be. We know from experience that there is no knowing what the future will hold. Standing on the threshold of the new year, we ask for gifts and graces to handle what we don't yet know.
In this "in-between time," we catch a glimpse of the mystery captured in the Incarnation. God has become human, and in that act what has been is joined irreversibly in hope and prayer with what will be. Our lives and faith testify to that union. Our hope placed in the One who sanctifies time by entering into it. The God who is beyond all time, conditions and bounds came to live among us so that our human bounds might not bind us.
Embracing that mystery and celebrating it invites a leap of faith. We trust that God will be with us wherever we go, just as God has been with us everywhere that we've been. In the space in between, we pause to be with God before rushing on to what will be.
At the retreat house, as retreatants awake on New Year's Day there is a special tradition of blessing time. With calendars and watches in tow, everyone gathers in the chapel to offer a blessing on the items we use to keep time. What began 30 years ago as an assembly of paper calendars and analog watches is now joined by cell phones and smart watches, step counters and datebooks. Though the pile may look different the blessing has the same intention — to consecrate the minutes and months of the coming year to God.
As we begin again this year, it is a blessing I offer to you, a means to bless time and an invitation to prayerfully pause and ask God's blessing on all that lies ahead:
A New Year's Blessing of Time & Time Keepers
Life-Giver, in the beginning you set the days in motion;
as we begin this new year, we ask your blessing on the days ahead.
Help us to remember those things that come without notifications or reminders,
to be attentive to the time we've been given —
time keepers, not only marking time but marked by time,
open to your indwelling spirit and to the moments beyond measure
For those moments in life that we wish away, we ask your blessing.
Give us patience and perseverance, trusting you are with us in what is hard to handle,
holding firm to your promise to always be with us.
For the moments we wish would never end, help us to cherish the time rich in your goodness.
May we give thanks when heaven touches earth in our midst — in friends and family, prayer and practice.
In this new year, Loving God, make us free that even as we bless time and all its unknowns, we may never cling to what our schedules hold. Be with us in the appointments we hold and the tasks we undertake. And in it all, make us free to find you.
Let us be generous in opening our busy lives and hearts to others;
Let us give time to those who need it; help us hold on to the moments we need most for our wellbeing, and grant us the sincerity and care-filled wisdom to know which is which.
Bless the holy days and holidays in the year ahead
Help us celebrate life and all its gifts as we mark births and deaths,
anniversaries and milestones, birthdays and commemorations
in the cycle of our days.
As each day offers us a new beginning, may we graciously accept the invitation to live well.
Remind us of the miracle of each moment and fan the fires of love and life in our being.
Let your creative spirit foster hope in adversity and give new life to what is tired or torrid in our lives and world.
Help us to face reality in each moment and to do so honestly and with love.
When weariness sets in, may we not become complacent.
May the devices we use to mark time help and not hinder us,
may they aid us in serving Your good rather than serving as distractions or escapes.
As the wise men followed your stars, may we always follow your guiding light. Give order to our days, bless us with joyful seasons and grateful hearts.
And as we begin this new year, grant to us, Good and Gracious God, the gift of a year filled with peace and love.
[Colleen Gibson is a Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia. Author of the blog Wandering in Wonder, she currently serves as coordinator of services at the SSJ Neighborhood Center in Camden, New Jersey.]