“And there is no new thing under the sun” ~Ecclesiastes 1:9
I woke up this morning to the sound of a rooster crowing. This is unusual since I am currently in Bolton, a town on the outskirts of Manchester, England. As I enjoy my annual trip to the land of my ancestors, I am struck by many things which are in contrast to my usual daily life, the weather being the most obvious.
Yesterday was a miserable day. It was not that cold, but it was damp and grey. We had decided to go for an outing (no retail therapy today, most of the shops are closed) and set off for a local landmark, Rivington Pike, a summit of the West Pennine Moors. In days of old they could look out to sea (on a clear day) and set fires on the top to warn of invasions (such as the Spanish Armada). Yesterday was not such a day, the mist, the cloud and ultimately the drenching rain prevented us from appreciating any of the features, both near and far.
Yet out and about with small children and dogs, families were tromping up and down the hill, covered from head to toe in rain proof gear, ignoring the elements. From my usual experience of sunny Miami, I could only admire the inner strength that permits people to overcome the odds and carry on regardless. Seasons may change, but man adapts and life goes on.
As the calendar turns over to a new page we are given an opportunity to look at our lives through fresh eyes. We see hope in the new number, this will be the year that we …(fill in the blank). But in order for our external circumstances to change, we must be willing to change something internal. We often look for change to come in the form of an opportunity dropping at our feet, a large amount of money appearing in our bank account (yay, Lotto!), new jobs, new relationships. But no matter where we go or what we do, unless we are prepared to do things in a new way, to see and seize or even make the opportunity, it is likely things will pass us by. Some of us are rich beyond belief (perhaps not in material goods) and fail to recognize what we have. So a change of lens and new perspective may be all we need to reevaluate our lives and appreciate the gifts we have.
These past days in Wales and England I have been given opportunities to revisit my past. From relatives who have known me since birth, to friends who knew me as a nervous culture shocked 18 year old, starting nursing school in Manchester, I have been dragged up and down memory lane. And regardless of the turning of the pages of the calendar, the adding of lines of character and grey hairs of wisdom, that inner core, that spiritual being remains essentially unchanged.
I have also spent some time listening to my father (who died 4 years ago, in the depth of a bitter Christmas with snow on the ground). This was not a ghostly visitation, he did not dream me or come to me in a vision. My brother has a DVD with a collection of videos recorded by one of my brothers-in-law, and I was able to see some of the family get-togethers that my kids and I missed over the years. But I was also able to listen to him give a wonderful address at his grandson’s wedding, when he was in his late 70’s. He was still young in appearance, had that same melodious accent with traces of his Welsh upbringing despite being born and raised in Liverpool, that style of delivery that included pearls of wisdom along with subtle and unexpected jokes.
I had blanked out most of that address, so heard it as if for the first time. He described the different types of love, and the Greek words that signified the different meanings: eros (physical or erotic love); philia (friendship or affection) and agape (brotherly or charitable love). His address had embarrassed his children and entertained his grandchildren, since he admitted that when he married my mother, there was not much knowledge or information regarding eros, the physical expression of love. His address was based on one of his favorite readings, from Corinthians (now abide faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love).
But I also was given a few of his sermons, or the notes from which he delivered his sermons, written on the back of other papers (my parents like many of their generation recycled before there was a word for it). His handwriting is not the easiest to understand, the writing of a left handed person made to write with their right hand. He had his own shorthand, and added little notes to remind him of other points. I found a sermon he delivered at the end of December just eleven years ago. In retirement he continued to preach at least once a month until dementia stole that ability. The sermon was based on a verse in Revelations which says “Behold I make all things new” but he started the sermon talking about the book of Ecclesiastes (a name which means the Preacher), and the concept that there is nothing new under the sun. That which happens shall happen again, rivers flow down to the sea every day, yet the sea is never full. He referred to the writer as a dismal sort of man, and reflected that at the end of a year it is easy to get depressed as we look at the financial world and its domination by assets and profit making. He mentioned the worship of celebrities, the temptation of drugs, the rise of crime and violence (sound familiar?). He spoke of the lucrative arms trade and the folly of talking about war as if it is a mere military exercise. And here we are again in 2015 sending drones to destroy.
He closed that sermon with a look at two ways to live in the world. There is the world of power and threats and hatred. Then there is the world of love and forgiveness, of compassion, faith and hope. So on this cold Friday morning, a hint of blue in the sky and the sun bravely trying to peep through, I am reminded by my father that even though there may be nothing new under the sun, we always have the opportunity to see things anew, to change the way we see and do things.
I hope that 2015 finds you healthy, with many happy memories and strength to cope with whatever the New Year brings you. May we all find a way to live in a world of love and forgiveness.