A New Unity Sunday Gathering
We gather together on this special day
The last time we come together as one in the year we call 2015
Our planet home has gone one full revolution around its star since we started counting this year
The fact that there is no start or finish line in space does little to dilute the strong sense of transition
We are certain that we are leaving one time and entering a new one
And such a moment is a point to pause
To look both back and forward
There are things we want to bring forward with us into this new stretch of time and others we hope to leave behind
We relish the opportunity for a new time - a year that is clean and clear and fresh
May the light of this flame illuminate our reflections of the past
And may its light show us the great possibility of the future year that may be
New Year's Day by Kathleen McTigue
The first of January is another day dawning, the sun rising as the sun always rises, the earth moving in its rhythms,
With or without our calendars to name a certain day as the day of new beginning, separating the old from the new.
So it is: everything is the same, bound into its history as we ourselves are bound.
Yet also we stand at a threshold, the new year something truly new, still unformed, leaving a stunning power in our hands:
What shall we do with this great gift of Time, this year?
Let us begin by remembering that whatever justice, whatever peace and wholeness might bloom in our world this year,
We are the hearts and minds, the hands and feet, the embodiment of all the best visions of our people.
The new year can be new ground for the seeds of our dreams.
Let us take the step forward together, onto new ground,
Planting our dreams well, faithfully, and in joy.
Be Mine, by Paul Hostovsky
I love mankind most
when no one's around.
On New Year's Day for instance,
when everything's closed
and I'm driving home on the highway alone
for hours in the narrating rain,
with no exact change,
the collector's booth glowing ahead
in the tumbling dark
like a little lit temple
with an angel inside and a radio
which as I open my window,
a little embarrassed by
my need for change
(until the silence says
it needs no explanation),
is suddenly playing a music more lovely
than any I've ever heard.
And the hand—
so open, so hopeful,
that I feel an urge to kiss it—
lowers the little life-boat of itself
and takes the moist and crumpled prayer
of my dollar bill from me.
Then the tap, tap,
tinkling spill of the roll of coins
broken against the register drawer,
and the hand returning two coins, and a voice
sweeter than the radio's music,
saying, "Have a good one, man."
I would answer that voice if I could—
which of course I can't—
that I've loved it ever since it was born
and probably longer than that.
Thought "You too,"
is all I can manage,
I say it with great emotion
in a voice that doesn't sound like me,
though it must be mine.
Message, by Andy Pakula
Today is the last Sunday in 2015. When we come together again next Sunday, it will be a whole new year - 2016.
On the last Sunday of each year, I always feel as though the regular machinery of our lives has ground to a halt. Although we come here together as we do each week, it feels different. The big wind-up to Christmas and all the preparations have wound down. The lights remain fixed to trees and buildings not quite sure of their purpose anymore. The shops - aware that their opportunity is past - are trying to get rid of the embarrassing excess of this year’s festivities. Another special day is coming and we refer to it - we anticipate the parties and the fireworks - we figure out when we will see someone next and say in that odd way - “see you next year.”
We are in an in-between time - no longer in the flow of 2015 but not yet across the line into that new year - 2016.
In religion speak, this in-between state is called liminality - a liminal space. It comes from the latin word for threshold, which makes sense. We are poised to go through a doorway from an old year into a new one, and we are here poised on the threshold between the two.
It also makes sense to do something big when we cross that threshold - some kind of big ritualistic event that pushes us all the way through. Fireworks and cheering and getting especially pissed seem to do that for many people in our society. Personally, I’ll struggle to stay up until midnight, but then I’m old and rather boring…
Standing here at this threshold, if we look carefully, we have a special, unusual vantage point. We can look back over a year and we can look forward to what we hope the new year will bring.
Each of us carries a history of that old year. We can remember days when something wonderful happened. There were times we recall with pride and satisfaction. And we also recall the times when someone failed us - or more likely - we disappointed ourselves. We long for a chance to try again and get it right this time. And the new year dangles that opportunity before us.
2016 is something of a blank slate. Our diaries are nearly empty. We might have a feeling that we could make of this year almost anything we choose - and that feeling leads to the custom of New Year’s resolutions.
Resolutions have a bad reputation because so many people fail to maintain those promises to themselves - and quite a few fail before January is done.
But let’s not give into pessimism. Many many people do manage to live up to their resolutions. They take advantage of liminality to shape the time to come. They actually do learn a language or an instrument. They actually do join a gym, tone their muscles, and lose a few stone. They actually do manage to stop smoking, or to drink less, watch less television, get their spending under control, waste less time on Facebook, or maybe procrastinate less when preparing their Sunday gatherings.
We have been talking about interdependence for the past three months. We know how important relationships between people can be to our lives. So it should come as no surprise that one of the most powerful ways to stick to your resolutions is to share them. Tell people what you are resolving to do in the new year and you are much more likely to succeed. It takes a village to raise a child. Apparently, it takes a network or a community to maintain a New Year’s resolution.
As I’m sure you’ve figured out with the special slip of paper you found inside your order of service today, I’m going to invite you to make a resolution today. I’m also going to give you the opportunity to share that resolution, so you might want to start thinking about that now.
There’s a twist, though.
Over the past three months, I have come to feel and understand more deeply that my impression of being a completely separate individual - a solitary being charting my own path through life - is an illusion. It is also an unhelpful illusion. I hope that this notion has touched your heart as well.
In fact, the person I am today is a function of the relationships and connections that have shaped me throughout my life. I also understand that I do not find happiness on my own - my happiness is dependent on those around me.
When I look at the most popular New Year’s resolutions, it’s clear that they are almost all made with the idea that I alone - acting by myself - can make myself happy. The skills I learn, the fit body I shape, and the time I don’t waste - this is going to do it for me.
They are filled with the illusion of separateness.
And then there are moments - driving up to the toll collector’s booth on a silent day - when the deep ties between friends and strangers alike - become more evident and are more deeply felt.
The Dalai Lama advised that if you want other people to be happy, you should practice compassion. No surprise there. And then he went on “if you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
He is right. Being compassionate to others creates an environment around us that is supportive and gentle. Being compassionate to others eases our own anger and fear.
But compassion is not the end of the story. Fostering understanding makes us happy. Easing suffering makes us happy. Securing justice makes us happy.
We should remember, before making any promises for 2016, that big resolutions generally don’t work. “I resolve to secure world peace this year” is probably not the best way to go.
But there are so many small things that any of us can do. We can say hello to people who we find sort-of scary.
We can be extra friendly to someone working a till.
We can make a point of educating ourselves about housing or wages or benefits or refugees and then explain the realities to others, write letters, find and join up with other people doing the best work.
We can give anonymous gifts.
We can show the persecuted in our society that they are not alone by our presence and the smiles on our faces.
We can sit with the lonely. We can give a listening ear to the hurting. We can bring flowers to the wounded.
Resolutions in relationship
I invite you to use that slip of paper and write a resolution that strengthens relationships, that builds understanding, that eases pain.
If you share your resolution, you are more likely to carry it out. If you share your resolution aloud here, you will inspire others and you - by allowing yourself to be a bit vulnerable in that way - build even more relationship.
So, please begin writing. When you are done, you are welcome to stand where you are and share what you have written.
And since we know that relationship matters so much, consider joining up with someone else on a shared resolution. Perhaps two or more of us will have similar enough resolutions and realise that we can do more together than we can apart. So listen carefully and you can talk afterwards about group resolutions.
[resolutions are shared]
We are not separate. Not one of us is able to be our best alone.
May it be so.