A new year is so nubile and tender I can hardly stand to wake to it, part of the new beginning of things. Our Canadian season of winter, just revving up, is harsh and grating, part of the apocalyptic side of new life.
In our daily life we meet people who have been abused, degraded regularly even in their own families. We may not know how but most around us have known some kind of apocalyptic experience. We know people who have been raped, people who live in fear, people whose anger easily boils into fiery irritation. Some folks are jerked around by a their own bodies, mind or skin by disease, psychosis or rot. I live in amazement that human society flows along as smoothly as it does, surprised when every day our banks don’t crumble, schools don’t fall apart and, I daren’t say, churches disintegrate, because being in one I know many are close to it. My fear sometimes makes me wish for a sense of delusion.
Meanwhile, I have talked through Christmas about the new life heralded in the Christ Child, then a few months later, in early spring, the horrific crucifixion of that grown child’s life, then the miraculous, awesome continuation — in fact, inspiration — of Christ’s spirit in community. Am I silly to tell myself these stories, as I have again and again for almost 60 years?
I do see new life and resurrection. It is those same people whose bruises and wounds I have mentioned who are the ones who not only carry on with jobs that make the world go around but turn their hearts to the deeper work of healing the world; the ones who share their gifts selflessly; the ones who are poor, tired and worn out but who stoop to pick up another, smile, or sit and listen; the ones who find joy in spending time with those who cannot easily find social groups to belong in; the ones who understand pain, poverty or loss, and enter those places again with others to be a living witness to the possibility of life; the ones who have been maimed by life who though struggling still find some hope and share it. It is not just in the rich giving to the poor but the many sharing life and the warmth of friendship and care. It is a vulnerable way to be, tender, like a new child, fearsome to enter, because it demands that we question the harshness, not of winter, but of ourselves and each other.
We have seen the Christmas story and the crucifixion among us, true. Lest we be deluded, Canadians are not the gentlest culture. We do not have to treat each other as harshly as we do on the street, school or in family. We can still keep reaching for more tender and caring ways to act and be. We don’t have to be Christian to do that, which may or may not help depending on the group, the persons in it, the practices they promote or do not question. Life does not have to be a battleground of judgment about right and wrong. Can this be a compassionate place of curiosity, understanding, and courageous conversations? Courage means one can name offence without taking offence. Perhaps this is a child-like way to be — not childish and harsh.
We are in the tender days of the new year, and it could be a gentle new time. It depends on all of us, each one of us, no matter what our circumstances, nor the harshness of the weather. Open to grace right where you are.
Rev. Shelley Stickel-Miles is an ordained minister who works alongside all the delightful ministers at Trinity United Church in Creston.