I am living just as the century ends.
A great leaf, that God and you and I
have covered with writing
turns now, overhead, in strange hands.
We feel the sweep of it like a wind.
We see the brightness of a new page
Where everything yet can happen.
Unmoved by us, the fates take its measure
And look at one another, saying nothing.
Ranier Maria Rilke---Book of Hours
What did you resolve for this year? Lose some weight? Exercise? Take on that project that has lain dormant?
I read this Rilke poem every New Year because it holds that tension between our enthusiasm of starting new with the realism of knowing that there are so many forces beyond our control. I want to finish a book I have been working on for at least six years. I want my children to flourish and avoid all the mistakes I made at their age. I want to believe that my country can live up to its dream of being that city shining on the hill. I want the Church to be the Church. And I want less nonsense from our leaders and more true vision that leads to improving the common good. I want to recapture that great hope I had eight years ago when Barack Obama promised “Change you can believe in.”
Yet there are the last lines of the poem: “the fates take its measure.” We live amid forces beyond our control. The recession; the falling of the Twin Towers; Katrina; the wounds that come because life is fragile and the world is complex.
Our calling in this New Year—with all the confusion around a new President—is to hold the polarity of hope and fate and live into the tension. Everything can happen because God is God and the Spirit still broods and always will brood over the earth. This is not a time for despair or for playing it small. It’s “the brightness of a new page.” I will not give up on hope simply because of an election. God is bigger than that.
But I will also not—or at least try not—to be so foolish to think that I or anyone knows what will happen today or tomorrow or the rest of 2017. The fates say nothing about the future.
This is a long way of saying my resolution for this year is to be more faithful. To live this day for the Lord and believe there will be manna tomorrow. God’s calling is too big for me or you to spend 365 days or even one day worrying about Donald Trump and the Congress. We have to live this life today—because it’s the only day we have. We also have to know that out of our hands the fates take their measure and say nothing to us. Things will happen in 2017 that don’t fit into our life plan. This is why we have faith. This is the wonder of being alive.
Happy New Year,