Being someone who is obsessed by the origins of words and also with ancient history, I am aware that the month of January takes its name from the Roman god Janus, who was the keeper of doorways and entrances. Janus was depicted in sculpture as having two faces which looked in opposite directions–both forward and backward. Very apt name for the first month of the new year, linking what is past with the imminent future! But even as I wrote the previous sentences, I realized that Janus looks both inward (to the interior of a room or building) and outward on to the world outside. There is a psychic and spiritual link here: past and future, our public and communal life vs. our inner life of thought, reflection, and soul.
What prompted this line of thinking was reading that a former colleague, who was also the rector under whom I served when first ordained 27 years ago, had just died. Our work relationship had not been very positive, and my memories of that period immediately assumed a negative cast when his name appeared–something for which I am not proud to relate. What that response tells me is that, after all these years (during which I moved on in ministry and he retired from this diocese more than a dozen years ago), I had not forgiven him. Regardless of what had happened between us and the many sermons I had given on the subject of God’s grace and mercy and Christ’s example of forgiveness, I must have unconsciously harbored a spirit which had not forgiven. Looking backward and inward, I found that I lack the real forgiveness which should characterize any Christian, let alone a priest.
Thus, I am entering into the New Year with an awareness of my own failing and spiritual fault. This is the classic definition of sin: that which resides within our nature that leaves us incomplete and aware of our distance from our true center, which is God, the author of wholeness. By allowing an old hurt to continue within my memory (even if I am not conscious of it), I remain enslaved to its pain and cannot be free–that is, until I turn to our Lord and confess that I have not forgiven as He forgives us. Suddenly, what was a New Year filled with promise seemed like a return to a foregone time where my heart bears its grudges and cannot be renewed.
Thankfully, with this reminder of my spiritual weakness came also the recollection of the Good News that, through Christ, God is ready to make all things new. I can let go of whatever it was that darkened by spirit in memory and leave it behind as I run to the new life which grace offers.
I can honestly say now that I am sad to hear of the death of my colleague and fellow priest. I am sorry that I could not find the ways to make our work relationship be more fruitful and a source of good memories. And I regret that for however many years I must have borne with inner bitterness as the fruit of not seeking to forgive him and appreciate his many gifts. “But above all,” as the Prayer of Thanksgiving begins, I am thankful for the means of grace by which Christ makes forgiveness–both in giving and receiving–possible for such a one as I am in the presence of the Lord.
Whether you are looking back or looking forward, may the New Year find you surrounded by the community of those who love, support, and pray for you, as well as nourished in your spirit by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.