I remember when the year 1999 rolled over into 2000. It was a time a great hubbub. There was a sense of enormity about the transition. Prince’s song 1999 experienced a revival, most of the world was worried about the ability of our technology to transition to Y2K, and many feared there would be some sort of cosmological event. As the minutes rolled down to seconds, there was a collective intake of breath that we held until the clocks moved to midnight. In the end, the transition was fairly uneventful. Technology kept functioning, no big events happened, and most of us realized it was just another New Year’s.
I have felt a similar incongruence this New Year’s. Having had such a tumultuous year – between the pandemic, civil unrest, and political upheaval – I think many of us had begun to believe that once we turned the calendar from 2020 to 2021, things would be better. The virus spread would slow as vaccines were promisingly being rolled out and we would finally be able to turn our energy from crisis mode to dealing with long-term issues like race. And we might even begin to see some political stability. If we could just get 2020 to close, all would be well.
But these first days of 2021 have felt a little like the first days of 2000. Not much has changed. Instead of feeling like the change in calendar year has made everything better, we are left with the reality that we are still in the same situation. In fact, things are going to get worse before they get better, which is almost incomprehensible.
As that reality has sunken in these last few days, I see two invitations before us. The first invitation is to take a deep, steadying breath. This is not a loud, exasperated sigh, but a calming, strengthening breath – a breathing in of the Holy Spirit as we face the continuation of this season. The second invitation is to take a moment to reflect on all the coping mechanisms we have developed in these last ten months – whether it has been operating in a new way (like livestreaming worship, zooming formation, or drive-thru connection events), whether it has been making space for community when we feel isolated (like sending mail, emails, and texts to fellow parishioners, hosting far-flung friends on Zoom calls just for fun, or taking socially distanced walks with others), or whether it has been discovering pleasant surprises (like the new people who have connected to your community even when your doors are closed, the hilarity that can ensue with virtual Epiphany pageants, or the blessings of a property that can lead to things like an outdoor labyrinth). I know these last months have felt overwhelmingly disastrous at times. But taking some breaths and looking at the goodness that has happened in the mess is what is giving me hope and fortitude for this next year. My prayer is that you might find that same hope today too!