As we move into the new year carrying all that came before, what might we be able to set down so that we can start anew?
Time for All Ages
The book for this Sunday was Little Tree by Loren Long
“New Year’s is without a doubt the most meaningful winter holiday for me. As a religious humanist, none of the winter holidays have ever really called to me. But to me there’s something almost magical about the chance for a fresh start. A new beginning. The start of a new chapter.
“One of my most treasured New Year’s traditions is coming up with a word for the year: a single word that I want to be the theme for my entire year. I started this practice five years ago, and it’s changed my life. It becomes a mantra I meditate on throughout the year. When I’m questioning what’s the right thing to do , I will look to my word for the year for guidance.
“In 2017, my word was embrace.
“In 2018, my word was explore.
“In 2019, my word was delight. I was, putting it kindly, a stressed out mess going into 2019. I knew I needed to put myself first more, and reconnect with basic pleasures in life. SO I went with “delight” as a way to help me be more mindful about finding joy and beauty in the everyday.
“My word for 2020 was: authenticity. It was a rought year for just about all of us. But there were times during 2020, when faced with a tough decision, that I relied on asking myself, “Which choice is more authentically me?” Years down the road, when I reflect back on 2020, sure I’ll remember the masks, but I’ll also remember it through the lens of my word for that year.
“2021’s word was: roots. I made a major move this year and I became a first-time homeowner. It was time for me to set down roots in my new neighborhood and my new town, but I took it further: I explored my own family’s roots more, in order to beter understand my own cultural story.
“As a religious humanist, I find it somewhat comforting to have this solid rock for my year. It forces me to focus in on a value I want to live my life around, and meditate on the value throughout the year. It forces me to put my values into practice, something we all could do a little more. When I look back on my last few years, instead of reflection back on the years in terms of (usually negative) events, I reflect on them in terms of values and the amazing things I did that year to embody that value.
“Even if you think New Year’s resolutions are a little hokey, I encourage you to try this word of the year idea. As a former skeptic, I can tell you if you take this idea seriously it will change how you see your entire year.
“So what’s your word for 2022? What’s the one word you hope will define your upcoming year?”
All those who gathered for the live service contributed words to our online word cloud with our hopes and values for 2022.
Letting Go to Move Ahead
On the first Sunday in January, many UU congregations hold a ritual to bid farewell to the old year, and release it. In the words of Rev. Elizabeth Harding, “The fire communion separates the end of the year from the beginning, helping us to put in perspective the joys and sorrows, the changes and transitions, the ups and downs of the year.”
Why does this communion center around fire? What makes fire sacred? Fire can both create and destroy. It has the pwer to cleanse, and to transform. Fire has heated our homes and lit up our nights, but it also allows us to separate and purify metlas, to release aromas from burned incense, and to cleanse blight from ailing plants.
The Fire Communion is about honoring the cleansing power of fire, to allow us to move forward lighter and transformed, ready to receive the hope and blessings of the new year. What would you like to leave behind from this past year?
Beginnings and Endings
The New Year is often a time of reflection and new beginnings. Year after year, the conversation centers around hope, with resolutions and plans for the future taking shape in people’s minds as we all imagine the comforting and exciting possibilities for the coming months. We set our intentions, we choose our centering word for the year, everything looking forward. But in every begining, there is an ending. The start of a new year only comes at the close of the last one.
We don’t usually like thinking about endings. They’re often complicated and bittersweet; they happen sometimes way too late or much before we’re ready, and because endings and beginnings come packaged together, it’s all too easy to allow beginnings to overshadown their less pleasant partner. However, as our story earlier today illustrated beautifully, there are no beginnings without first, an ending. The Little Tree couldn’t move forward, couldn’t grow into who he was meant to be until he let go of his leaves, and who he was before. And just like the story, no one can force that ctucial ending, it has to come from within.
Without that reckoning and acceptance of change, a new beginning can never truly happen. We’ll walk into new circumstances carrying the burdens from the old, never finding renewal or release, simply adding more and more to our backs. So before we move fully into this fresh new year, we need to look back and say a proper goodbye. Each of us has our own goodbye we need to make, our own burden to release before we can properly move ahead into the growth and change that awaits us.
What have you been carrying that you’re ready to set down? What have you been carrying that might stand in the way of the word you chose for this new year? What disappointments, what mistakes, what expectations are you still carrying that are no longer helping you?
Forgiveness is integral to saying our proper goodbye. Without forgiving ourselves the mistakes we’ve made, we can’t set down the embarrassment or regret that haunts us. Without forgiving others, we can’t set down the resentment or hurt that follows us. But forgiveness is difficult, and it can be a process. It’s important to ask ourselves, “Am I ready to let go of this?” We ask because the question reminds us we’ll be ready someday, and it reminds us that day isn’t necessarily today.
What do you need to forgive to move forward? What do you need to accept to find peace? What do you need to release to be the person you want to be? And then for each, are you ready to forgive, are you ready to accept, are you ready to release?
Endings and beginnings are perfect times for reflection, but we are not perfect people in a perfect world. Sometimes we carry things that hold us back, but we’re not ready to let them go. Perhaps at the next ending, or the one after that, we’ll be ready. This year’s beginning and ending will only be one of many, in a long line of bittersweet endings and bright beginnings; it does not need to be the perfect time, the deepest reflection, or the biggest turning point. Setting down one thing will lighten an entire load.
So what is you rone thing, big or small, that releasing will allow you to move forward in 2022?
I invite you now to reflect on what you’re ready to let go of today, in this moment. If you feel so called, you are welcome to write down what you think of on a piece of paper like we sould if you were gathering in person today, and burn that paper (safely) now or later to symbolize your release. Or you may prefer the simplicity of our symbolic fire, shared virtually. This ritual is for you, and only asks what you need of it. I will leave you with a poem by Lois Van Neer to lead you into your reflection.