The ancient Roman god, Janus, was portrayed with two heads looking in opposite directions. January, the first month in a new year, shares this concept of "double vision" – conveying the sense that as a new year begins and we're now focussing forward, we are not quite free of where we have been. That's a reasonable concept of renewal – going into uncharted territory, yet still connected to one's heritage.
However, I prefer my childhood cartoon images of this transition from one year to the next. The ending year was presented as a bent-over, long-bearded, haggard-looking old man. The approaching year was pictured as a bright-eyed, bouncing, beaming baby.
Now that I appear more and more like the year-ending old man, I find myself preferring the image of this "baby" as a model for renewal. The exuberant infant communicates a delightful message: here is almost unlimited potential; here is a fresh start; here is hope; and here is that often longed-for opportunity to have a "do-over".
You see, the baton passing from a worn-out, weary, old man to a fresh little baby implies that the past mistakes don't go forward with you, but the wisdom acquired from those mistakes does. And that implication has great attraction for me. In over thirty years of congregational ministry, almost as many as a husband and a father, and almost seven decades of life, my list of potential "do-overs" is lengthy.
Regrettably, as much as I am attracted to this "baby" image, spiritual renewal is more like the Janus concept. The thrust is definitely forward, seeking to venture into newness, aspiring to turn good into better, and revelling in the possibility of God's Spirit being released in ways and measures beyond one's imagining.
Yet the past must still be acknowledged – sometimes in good ways – as in affirming the faith that has nurtured us to this point, and celebrating the wisdom that has been acquired and the truths that have proved to be sustaining. And sometimes, this past is less helpful. Consider broken relationships that limp along into the new ventures, or past poor decisions whose effects linger and limit, as well as nostalgic longings that lessen capacity to embrace newness.
With that Janus perspective in mind, let me suggest a prayer for renewal that, if offered in humble trust, might bring the renewing hopes of the Baby more fully into our lives in 2017.
- Lord of time and space, healer of brokenness, finder of the lost, source of eternal hope and provider of strength and wisdom, hear my prayer for renewal.
May all that has gone before me be a guide into ways of living that are compassionate, grace-filled, and righteous.
Teach me to embrace with passion what I and my forebears have learned of Your holy love and tender, generous mercy.
May Your abundant forgiveness free me – and all who love You – from debilitating memories, futile remorse, and paralyzing fear.
Bless my eyes with visions of service to others that restore and embrace the desperate and the desolate.
Fill my heart with dreams of passion that confront entrenched mindsets and systems which diminish and destroy.
Infiltrate my mind with insights that discern truth from error and substance from shallowness.
Steel my will with courage and boldness.
And may the glory be Yours alone. Amen.
Ian Shaw, Simcoe, Ontario