A while back I read a New Year's sermon by Clarke Dewey Wells. In it he writes: “We cannot enter the New Year clean and pure as the shiny babes pictured in illustrations of New Years Eve. Neither we nor the world work that way. We enter the new year bearing the encrustations of our timeworn past”.
I found this a provocative statement. The new year has always struck me as one of potential. With the new year comes new possibilities. We have the opportunity to give ourselves and each other a fresh start. We can let go of old slights, old habits, old ways of doing things that do not serve us. I suppose that's why people make New Year's resolutions. Each of us, I suspect, has one or two things about ourselves we would like to change. We might lose a few pounds, or stop some bad habit we've acquired. Perhaps we could consider the New Year to be an opportunity to change those things, to be “reborn”, as it were.
But I can also see Well's point. Our first UU Principle speaks of the “inherent worth and dignity of every person”. That includes YOU and ME- right now- just as we are- scars, warts and all. We are not perfect- none of us are perfect. We are, almost by definition, imperfect creatures. Yet we are caring, good, decent, loving people. We each carry, for lack of a better term, a spark of divinity.
Certainly, there are major changes we might make- moving to a different country, changing jobs- things that would impact our lives in dramatic ways. But the reality is that the things we'd like to change about ourselves are, for the most part, relatively minor.
We cannot change the core of who we are. We cannot let go completely of our past, nor, I suspect, would we even want to, if we are to be completely honest. Babies only become fully functioning adults as they gain experience. Our past informs who we are. It is a part of us. We carry the experience, the lived wisdom, the psychic scars of the accumulation of our lives with us into each new year. It gives our lives richness and depth.
I very much like that phrase Wells uses: “encrustations of our timeworn past”. It conjures for me an image of barnacles attached to a pier. The wood of the pier is weathered, maybe not as smooth as it once was, but still strong. It stands firm against the wind and current. Occasionally we think to scrape off some the barnacles, but it's not possible to detach them all. And those we do manage to scrape off leave an unmistakable scar that never truly disappears.
The reality is that life is a struggle. Like those barnacles, the experiences of our lives leave scars- even if they are invisible. And it is the accumulation of those experiences that make us such interesting creatures- at once both vulnerable and tough, scarred and beautiful, needing and needed.
As Wells writes: “We cannot enter the New Year smooth as babes, but we do enter as survivors, often enriched, tougher, wiser, and, seasoned by life's struggles, readier for the time to come. Our scars signal more than lamentation; not injury but renewal, not grief but reconciliation, not ruin but restoration, not the old year's accumulation of woe, but the new year's reality of healing, strength, and hope.”
As we enter into this new year, may we have both the unblemished curiosity of the newborn babe and the strength of the seasoned wood, may our accumulated wisdom serve to give us new insights and may the reality of the new year bring us healing, strength and hope.
Wishing you peace and blessings,