One secular year closes: the next bursts open. Life unfolds and enfolds; moments melt into one another in days and weeks and months. What is remembered somehow shapes what is understood, what is to come. And so the secular and the religious converge in the first days of January, each providing the chance to rethink the past, live fully in the present and build towards the future.
Both the secular world and the world of faith offer so much that is enriching and deepening, that enhance daily life experiences. There are the acts of kindness: a store clerk spending extra time with an elderly customer; a child saving a treat for the parent; a teenager shoveling out a neighbor’s car. These are moments of purpose, of placing another ahead of self. In the secular world, these exist as human kindnesses, but in the world of faith each one speaks of the broader context. Each one reveals the divine spark, echoes Teresa of Avila’s conviction that we are the hands and heart of Christ. That breath of difference in perception creates a whole new possibility for the person of faith: it is a link to Christ, a deepening of that intensely personal awareness. Every act of kindness opens the chance for more in that relationship. There are links, too, to those who strive for the same, who know the presence of God in the simplicity of interaction.
To notice what is happening in the world, in the lives of others, is a gift. There is courage in the faltering steps of the aging, strength in the arms of the young mothers, resilience in the eyes of the disabled. It is all waiting to be seen, appreciated, understood. Learning from one another is a critical aspect of humanity. It is empowering and powerful. There is no doubt that discovery of the wonders of one another is possible. Daring to see the divine in the mundane is the gift of faith. Trusting that the divine is present in the mundane is the function of faith. Capturing it now and then is what sustains the life of faith.
It all happens in the secular world because that is where we are. Faith is the heart force, the soul strength, that makes the ordinary extraordinary. It distinguishes between looking at something or someone and really seeing something or someone. It opens the possibility of making a real difference in the lives of one another.
New Year’s is the dare to develop that vision, to notice what is happening and to respond with attentiveness and presence. It is the chance to live out personal beliefs without note or celebrity, to accept anonymity with humility, and to practice over and again acts of genuine compassion and kindness. It is a secular celebration but an invitation to live in a world of faith as well.