I wish you many blessings for this new year. Some people make New Year’s resolutions because there is something about new beginnings that gives us a second chance to renew our commitment to whatever or whoever it is that brings meaning into our life, and another opportunity to connect with our purpose.
Over the Christmas holiday I read Parker Palmer’s latest book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old. The book is a reflection on his 79 years of life. Essentially it is about his understanding of what makes life meaningful. I resonated with the title as I slipped into 2019. The phrase, “on the brink” is usually used to denote impending disaster, but Palmer uses it to say that no matter how old we are we are always on the brink of everything. He writes, “… being old is no reason to wade into the shallows. It is a reason to dive deep and take creative risks. I like being ‘On the brink of everything’ because it gives me new perspectives on my past, present and future, and new insights into the inner dynamics that shape and drive my life.”
I too like the feeling that I am on the brink of everything in 2019. In 2004 I began a yearly reflective process. The first years it was fun and interesting, but not very meaningful. But in the last 10 years I have taken it more seriously. Each January I pick seven cards from a deck of 74 concepts (ancient and modern) that pertain to these categories: Essence, Past, Present, Future, Possibility, Blessing and Synthesis. In 2015 my Essence card was Exhaustion. It shocked me. I would have said that I was too busy for a 73 year old, or I was tired a lot, but exhaustion was a word that suggested I needed to consider retirement. I took 6 months to unburden myself of teaching, offering spiritual direction, and many other “jobs” that I picked up because they didn’t take much time.
June 9, with my teaching job at the FCJ Spiritual Life Centre finished, I began a work sabbatical which I defined as: No Work for a Year. And I did that. The next June I felt comfortable saying, “I am retired” and I got another message (and to me it seemed like it came from a divine source). Now I understood that it was okay to say No or Yes to a request, but “yes” only if my heart responds to it and it is not “work”. I have done that for the last 3 years. I still spend one day a week contemplating each of the seven concepts. My life has become a more contemplative adventure, reorienting my physical and spiritual life. It is my way of delving more deeply into the question, “What is my life about now, in retirement?”
This year my Essence card was Maturity. This was also my Synthesis card from last year which suggests to me that my maturity remains a primary focus. Maturity refers to inner connection with one’s divine self/purpose. I will be 76 this coming summer. I felt withdrawn over the past summer and in the fall I felt restless and yearning, not for work but for engagement, as if something was coming. This year I do feel I am on the brink of everything, but not yet sure what that everything is. However, it does feel like a sacred adventure and I now have the tools to know how to say “yes” and how to say “no”.
Do you have a ritual or practice that helps you hear the voice of God in your life? Does the new year hold a gift for you? Does your faith feed you with gifts for the journey?
I heard an interview on the radio about a week ago about “luck”. The person being interviewed is not a fan of luck. He is a statistician and used the lottery as an example of belief and reality not being the same. He said some people think they are lucky and have an inside track, scheme, or way of winning. In the end he said it is just a happy coincidence if one wins anything. But he did acknowledge that those who believe they are lucky are more likely to be successful in their life and have more positive experiences and feelings. Their belief in being lucky gives them a sense of self-esteem and allows them to take on more challenges and risks that lead to good things. Whereas, pessimistic people are more cautious and do not open doors to growth and new possibilities as easily. I would say, not that I am lucky, but that I am blessed. Not that God has chosen me over other people to give me more life and gifts, but that through faith and spiritual practices, I am able to follow a path that leads me to more growth, more life. I believe there is a positive impulse toward growth in all of life. There are challenges and disasters that interrupt that process and it is how we deal with these that creates the way forward.