Everyone has plenty to say about what the year 2020 unearthed. No one is short on commentary: news media, human rights activists, political correspondents, medical professionals, and even among people like you and me.
Each year brings its own challenges and opportunities. 2020 brought more to us than ever imagined – global pandemic the likes of which we have not seen in 100 years with extreme sickness and death rates, racial unrest and protesting most of the year with regards to inequity and abuse of power, political divisiveness that pulled people further apart who were already at odds over key issues.
Most of us, including myself, are quite ready for 2020 to be in the books and behind us. It is time for newer and brighter days ahead. Before we get to used to the idea of laying to rest the previous year, we must not totally let go of last year. Despite the challenges and obstacles, the year brought forth some skills and truths that are worth bringing with us into 2021. We learned some things about ourselves and the communities of which we are a part.
I will name a few things that we can pull forward into 2021 that are worth reflection and integration into our lives:
Leaning new skills of adaptability and creativity – we had to be creative with technology and changing living patterns and ways to connect with others; as the need for social distancing extended, we continued to adjust our plans and lives to be safe and responsible
Deeper appreciation for relationships we value – when we cannot see and be around the people we love it because glaringly clear how important people are in our lives; we found ways to connect to family and friends through outside limited gatherings, driveway visits, Zoom calls, and whatever methods helped us stay connected to the people we care about
An extended connection to nature – we are seeing more people out in nature taking walks, riding bikes, enjoying sunrises/sunsets, watching the stars, and observing nature and the life that inhabits there; being connected to nature more helps us sense a closer connection to God as well
Increased and sustained voices and presence of justice in places of injustice – the year brought heightened awareness of racial injustice and how we are called and compelled to be partners in the work of anti-racism; justice work is partly education, partly relational, and partly systemic change
Learning to simplify – we have learned to live with less and realized we do not need more for life to be meaningful; living more from our homes this past year has taught us that simplicity feels more rewarding
The past year was hard on all of us. It tested our patience, our resolve, and asked of deeper reservoirs of our faith to help us. Church has definitely been different. How odd it has been not to enter the sanctuary for worship since the middle of March. Is it an excuse to let our spiritual rhythms slide or do we dig in our heals and dive deeper into the re-framed rituals that sustain us?
I am reminded of the psalmist that says, “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” The psalmist speaks of being in exile and away from the Promised Land and unable to sing songs to God in the temple. This same psalm begins with the word, “By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.” Psalm 137 is a tough psalm that deals with the struggling reality of God’s people displaced and needing to re-frame their faith and relationship with God. We have been doing the same throughout this entire past year.
A phrase that has been echoing in my mind and made its way into the opening year’s sermon series for 2021 is “Spiritual Resiliency.” How do we thrive in our faith under conditions we did not foresee or desire? How do we absorb what we learn in time of hardship to intensify our journey of faith going forward?
At least for me, these questions are not only answered for myself but equally discerned with my faith community. We are stronger together. We are empowered with and for one another. Our faith deepens when we are truly connected, regardless of how that connection is made. I said one of the truths gleaned from 2020 was learning to simplify. The simplest words from the Bible that can be lived daily for each of us are the two commandments Jesus pulled from his Jewish heritage that have also become hallmarks of the Christians faith:
Love God with everything you have
Love your neighbor as you love yourself
These two says are relational and grounded in love. Everything else we do is commentary.
As we stand on the threshold of 2021, I invite you to consider the beginning of this year a true opportunity for yourself and the church to grow in ways not yet discovered. Let us incorporate the lessens learned to forge a path of faithfulness that will see new growth, new inspiration, new welcome, and new opportunities to be God’s people
We live in divisive and unjust time. Each of us has the opportunity and call upon our lives to change the course we see in our society. As we let go of year that was filled with pain, protest, separation, and injustice, we enter a year with greater resolve to reflect the life of Jesus in a world searching to find its way. I invite us all to lean into this year with broadened skills to reflect God’s love and grace to a world in desperate need of hope and compassion.
I am reminded of words shared by Diana Butler Bass when she said of the Christian faith, “Christianity is not continuing as it always has been, but Christianity for the rest of us is transformative Christianity.” May it be so.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Dr. Christopher Wilson