Are We Ready For Something New?

At this time of year, I have always been an inveterate goal setter. I love the feeling of leaving the year behind, the whole bundle of joys and hardships, successes and failures, good memories and things you’d like to forget. It feels good to turn the page to the next chapter. It feels clean. What can I do better? How can I love more, see more, learn more, contribute more? How can I understand the world better, so that, perhaps, I can make some small dent in the problems we all face. I love opening a new chapter.

But this year I come to my annual goal-setting with something like a hangover. By all accounts 2016 was not a good year. Whew, glad that’s over, we mutter to ourselves. Can things get better? Will they?

Towards the close of 2016, I found myself asking whether America is in decline. I turned to the great Alexis de Tocqueville who warns over and over that democracy is fragile. It must be nurtured, protected, encouraged. People must buy-in. Leaders must listen to what folks are saying. Leaders need to articulate the case for something better. De Tocqueville’s most stern warning has to do with losing moral and spiritual common ground. My biggest fear is that we are losing moral and spiritual common ground. Do we have a center anymore?

Here’s what I’ve been thinking. Through this election season, my life was flipped upside-down reading Ann Voscamp’s quite extraordinary book Ten Thousand Gifts: A Dare To Live Fully Right Where You Are. It couldn’t have come at a better time. In the midst of all the strident, angry posturing of our political scene, Voscamp proposed for me a fresh approach. She dares us, that’s a big word for her, to see and touch and listen for God’s presence in our midst. We need a new attentiveness to the intrusion of God’s grace—perhaps especially in the small things in our lives, since the big things feel so out of kilter, so out of reach. My focus began to shift from politics to what feels profoundly deeper.

Voscamp, for example, describes one stunning moonrise over her beloved wheat fields. She and her husband are farmers; they are parents of five children. This profound experience of beauty out on the back-forty causes her to ask some very deep questions:

Isn’t it here? The wonder? Why do I spend so much of my living hours struggling to see it? Do we truly stumble so blind that we must be affronted with blinding magnificence for our blurry soul-sight to recognize grandeur? The very same surging magnificence that cascades over our every day here. Who has time or eyes to notice?

As I lay out my goals for the year, I’ve decided I want to nurture the time and sharpen my eyes to notice this grandeur shining out all around me. If we can develop those eyes, perhaps we will spot this “surging magnificence” of God’s presence. We find that presence in the small gifts given to us each day, each hour. Perhaps it’s in such a gorgeous moonrise. Perhaps it’s the twinkle of the eye of someone we love. Maybe it’s something we are reading. Maybe it’s the turn of phrase we think worth keeping. Perhaps it’s in a gift of kindness we offer to others. When we notice, these things can remind us of how much we are missing. What we are missing can bring such joy, a joy we want to share.

“A little too mushy,” you might say: “You mean you want us to sing kumbaya as the world swirls in its tragic patterns of hatred, violence, division, polarization, paralysis?” But wait a minute, listen to this: “The weight of God’s glory,” says Voscamp, “not illusory or ephemeral, but daily and everywhere, punctures earth’s lid and heaven falls through the holes.” Oh my, isn’t that what we’re looking for?

I’ve stopped reading and listening to much of the endless political chatter. It’s grown tiresome to me. People can’t seem to shake the posture of attack, accusation, denigration. Even as it grows so divisive, so worn, in the end so destructive, we flounder around asking what else there is to talk about. No, I want to say, ultimately, when heaven falls through the cracks of the universe, into our laps—wow, we’ve got something to talk about, something to celebrate. As I’m sketching out my goals for the year, I’m searching for the ways to see better this “weight of God’s glory” falling all around. Maybe this is a new starting point to get ourselves reoriented. Maybe this is where renewal can begin. I need that right now. Perhaps you do too.