The start of a new year is like an odometer rolling to the next ten thousand mile marker. There’s a big number followed by a slew of zeroes, and you don’t know where you will travel before the next rollover. That’s why I don’t make resolutions, usually.
If some optimistic party-goer feels compelled to load more on the new year than it’s already carrying and wants company in self-flagellation, I am a good sport. One year I resolved to read Don Quixote, the next year War and Peace, and finished both. I did study Spanish in a now-defunct adult education program, but I didn’t make the hand-bound books I bought the paper for nor tackle gluten free baking from scratch. Nor did I master the slow cooker. My rationalization? It’s not good for a non-morning person to handle knives or make precise measurements early in the day.
I don’t remember making any resolutions for 2014, though I had a goal to finish my masters and graduate in May. Travel plans did include a trip with a group from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to Taize, France. Nestled in the hills of the Burgundy region, about 100 hundred brothers lead a simple, self-sustaining lifestyle funded by sales of their pottery, books and music. Thousands of young people from across Europe and around the world are drawn to the peaceful, loving community where they’ve heard God’s presence can be felt. For a week in early March, the seven of us joined this wonderful community.
Our mornings began when the Taize bells called the community to an hour of worship before eating a simple meal together. After a teaching time led by a brother and small group discussion in groups arranged by language and age, the cycle repeated. Cleaning, cooking, and maintenance jobs were assigned after lunch, and the community joined together again for dinner. The day closed with a third service, and people often remained for hours praying, meditating, and singing the Taize choruses.
Once the daily rhythm became habit, the sense of peace and calm from the morning service permeated my entire day, and in a deeper way than my usual devotional. It was unsettling. One evening when a ring shone around the full moon, I wrestled with God. As I paced back and forth across the grassy field, I asked, “Why don’t you seem this present back in Illinois?” Intellectually I knew God is spirit and fully present everywhere all the time. But my heart sensed a difference that systematic theology, my degree program, couldn’t explain.
I couldn’t transport the community to a Midwestern cow pasture and regularly join them; God has them in Europe for a reason. What taste of Taize could I pack home? I thought about how I start my day and how the community starts theirs. The news radio station is the first thing I listen to each morning. In ten minutes I hear the latest news, disasters, scandals, deaths, and weather report. (When you live in Chicago that last one is key.) What if I dropped the radio habit and waited to hear the bad news?
It was two months late, but I made a resolution. The weather app provided the daily forecast, and I begin the day with a God-directed, positive focus instead of doomsday reports before I pulled up the shades. Surprisingly I grieved the loss of my friends’ voices, Pat Cassidy and Felicia Middlebrooks, who had joined me weekday mornings for years. I didn’t know how poorly the Cubs were doing and was ignorant of the hottest news. One woman in the health club locker room asked me what rock I had been living under when I didn’t know the latest about Hurricane Sandy. There are risks to being uninformed.
But the benefits outweigh. I didn’t start a chocolate for breakfast habit nor use only a spoon for all meals or spend three hours a day in prayer and worship, but the new routine brings a wedge of Taize-peace to each day. I find comfort in remembering God’s presence before the negative news flows in, and the positive, eternal focus reshapes my perspective. The bad news is still bad and there’s still pain, suffering and hurt all around the world. Yet I know the God who met me in France, who meets me in Illinois, is in those places, too.
Tonight is New Year’s Eve and you may be compelled to make a resolution. Go ahead and make one, but keep your ears open for the ones God adds as you travel in the new year. They might be the ones you keep.