Artist Andrew Wyeth confesses, “I prefer winter, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape--the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it. The whole story doesn’t show.” As we greet the new year and move toward the heart of winter, Wyeth is right--seeds that fell into soft dimples of the earth have been covered in fallen leaves and blanketed by snow. Gestation is slowly quickening in the belly of the earth. What poet John O’Donohue calls “the tight solitude” of seeds will soon give way to cracks, the shedding of form, the sending forth of roots. We won’t catch sight of it for many months, but the earth is busy preparing something beautiful, a story not yet showing.
The womb-depth of winter calls us home to ourselves--to contemplative solitude, the warm insight beside a flickering fire, considering the bone structure of our own lives. It’s a time to slow our bodies down, perhaps to sleep more, and to dream. It’s a season to linger over meals or warm libations, to tell ancient stories or make inquiries of the heart. Midwinter gives the pause which is the seed to new intentions.
Rather than resolutions that activate our ambition, fortify our images, or struggle, once again, to rein in unhealthy habits, below are seven resolutions for the soul. Consider them a beautiful bone structure for the new year.
Read: Vow to read everything in the year ahead--poetry, sacred scripture, achingly personal memoir, surprising short stories, colorful children’s books, unconventional novels that place you squarely outside of your own life experience. Read for the beauty of a simple string of words, for the kernel of truth implicit in story, for gut-wrenching revelation and the enduring comfort of Psalms. Vow to feed your soul, because the quality of what you pour into it affects the alchemy of what comes out.
Write: Consider your life’s pace, and make a resolution you can keep. It may be writing for ten minutes with a Sunday afternoon mug of coffee. It may be scrawling a few lines in your journal every morning. It may be churning out a fresh crop of poems or committing to page the story that’s been taking shape within. Writing allows us to track our growth and transformation. It purges deep emotion, so we can know beyond all doubt that there is more to life than the places where we feel stuck. It calls us to traffic in the beauty of a turn of phrase, to hold words in our hearts and on our lips. Writing is the gateway to reflection, and nothing in our lives will transform without the chrysalis of the contemplative pause.
Pray: As poet Mary Oliver says, “It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones; just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.” Pay attention to your heart, to life and the wider world. Enter into wonder and gratitude. Surrender to silence and see what rises to greet it. This may be the year of a new meditation practice, or it may be the year when whispering two raggedy sentences before bed is all you can muster. You may be teaching a child to pray, or called upon to sit in silence before the pain of grief and loss. This too is prayer, a remembering that we are not alone and that the holy power of love still possesses the power to save us, especially in the most difficult of times.
Give: This year, aim for mindful giving. Giving is not always a good in and of itself, particularly if you are depleted from giving too much on the regular. Decide then, how you will give. Consider the why. Ask, as theologian Howard Thurman advises, what makes you come alive. Then, “go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Living generous lives is mostly about being alive to the moment-- awakened to the individual who could use a helping hand, a kind word, a genuine smile. Don’t neglect the importance of giving your dollars. Our household budgets are moral documents that reveal what we truly value. When we align our giving and spending with our deeply held commitments, paradoxically we live more simply and richly.
Serve: Get outside the circumstances of your life by centering someone else’s. Find an organization that is working to eradicate the root causes of poverty, inequality, hatred, or desecration of the earth, and see how you can help. Volunteer to chaperone a youth group service project. Take the time to delve more deeply into our world’s persistent problems by talking to those most affected, those building new systems, birthing new ideas, imagining how we might do things differently. Serving gifts us with getting outside of ourselves. In today’s world, we desperately need such opportunities.
Repair: Consider: from whom do you need to ask forgiveness, or who are you called to forgive? Isaiah 58 proclaims that God’s people will rebuild ancient ruins, raise up the foundations of many generations. “You will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” How will you enact reparations in today’s world? Where are you, or we, snagged in systems that grind people under and how can we listen, without interrupting, to the harm that’s been visited upon the most vulnerable? How will you stand in solidarity with the maligned and dispossessed? Maybe you will march for justice in a cause for which you do not stand at the center. Perhaps you will participate in an anti-racism training or use your influence to create more just workplace policies that reduce harassment. The world is broken, we must vow to repair the corners and communities where we live.
Gather: Commit to community. Communities pray us through grief, bring us meals as we recover from surgery, bless the birth of new babies, celebrate the great joys of our lives. Communities also hold us accountable and call us to act collectively. The myth of rugged individualism has us out here trying to re-invent spirituality for ourselves. Truth be told, there is much about faith and religion that must be relinquished and reinvented, but we can’t do that work in a silo. Find a community that nurtures the genuine in you, a place where you can go carrying raw grief or the heavy yoke of despair and know you will never be turned away. Introduce your children to the magic of inter-generational relationships, challenging though they might be. Vow to do the hard work of loving the person in your community who irks you. This, too, is a spiritual practice. Raise your voice with others in song, march together, pray with one voice and with many voices. Break bread with people you would never choose, but in whom there also exists the divine spark.
Remember: you don’t have to do it all. Consider, discern, then commit to a few of these resolutions in ways that dovetail into your daily life. Know, though, that these spiritual practices knit together the bone structure of your year, the skeleton to support an enfleshed and incarnational way of living. If your soul is well, all matter of things will be well, regardless of circumstance. Remember in the loneliness of winter that something waits beneath the surface. The whole story is not yet showing, it is just beginning to quicken. May you journey through this year blessed by all things.