The end of the calendar year brings its own set of spiritual challenges – among them the perpetually teasing question of how to balance the claims of there past, the present and the future. There is value in looking back, provided the intent is to move forward, but as we do so, another question emerges: while it is pleasant to rejoice in the memory of happy moments, might there not also be causes for joy as we allow memories that are still painful to come to mind?
The mediation that follows is from my book from Barefoot Ways (SPCK, 2015) a collection of ‘poem-prayers’ for every day from December 1st to February 2nd. It is an attempt to draw together the idea of the ‘examen’ – a spiritual discipline of reviewing the past day before sleep – with the rather more hefty challenge of making some sort of spiritual sense of the last twelve months.
Reading it through again myself I notice again the emphasis that it gives to the importance of people. Yet, if I had chance to re-write it I would strengthen this theme. ‘People make places’ they say, but it’s also true that ‘people make years’. If I had to reduce this examen to one stark question it would be this: who made a difference for you in 2015?
Examen for the Year’s End
As the year’s final sands fall swiftly
through the narrow hip of the glass,
teasing me that they are speeding up.
Let me find a wayside bench where I can
rest and reflect – just a few seconds
for each month of the year past.
Let me feel again the heart moments that
mattered most, let me think back to
before the problem was solved, the decision made.
Let me recall the faces and voices that
meant much, that cared for me,
drew me on, restrained me with love.
I am grateful for those who
by giving me some unwittingly difficult word
wounded and saved me.
Let me remember the places where
good things happened; where there
was refreshment, delight and social joy;
let me recall feasts and treats, visits and encounters,
where radiance was.
I am grateful for the good days,
the good people,
the good times.
Let me visit once more the
shadows and shades of benighted
minutes and days, the hours
when purpose was eclipsed,
the moments when I met
hostility with fear,
where uncertainty made me anxious,
when I took the opportunity for the cruel look,
the self-indulgent feeling, when
it was my sin that spoke.
Let me fly back over the
months, hovering where I should,
pin-pointing grace and disgrace,
joy and woe, when I have
done well or let myself down.
And all this not for the sake of the
past alone, though it deserves its honour,
but for the joy of the present yet to come.