Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting,
The soul that rises with us,
Our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
~ William Wordsworth
Years ago a little girl came into the world, the first-born among many. In the beginning she created the world as she imagined it. Her birthday signified new beginnings for all.
Everyone celebrated her arrival on planet earth – as they’d done two millennia before when Christ was born in Bethlehem.
And, like He, she was the recipient of valuable gifts, having won the statewide baby derby. Merchants traveled from afar to deliver carriage, cradle, crib, and highchair.
And a wardrobe fit for a tiny princess, a sterling silver cup and spoon, a gold bracelet and ring, a year’s supply of Gerber’s baby food.
Her birthday was a threshold the world crossed to embark on the voyage of transformation. A window of time through which sunlight poured in to photosynthesize incomplete lives.
This was the day where the hope of metamorphosis was fully acknowledged, or at least the desire for improvement realized. Old habits could be shed like snake skins, new wonders born with the sunrise.
As the New Year’s Day parade marched and glided across the television screen she sat in pre-school wonder, mesmerized by it all. Just to think that the whole nation could be so euphoric over her birthday!
As the years passed she outgrew the illusion that she was the object of mass celebration. All those resolutions made by everyone had nothing to do with her. She was just like the others: in need of redemption and wholeness.
Then one day, as she roamed through the Mount Olive College library, she stumbled upon some old newspapers on display from the archives.
There they were in black and white: her mom in bed holding her; her proud father beaming and leaning over them like a guardian angel; and the doctor, also looking down upon them and smiling as though he’d just won the lottery.
Sometimes I return to the past just to see what I’ve learned from it. And from this childhood memory I relearned what I’d forgotten. That I was no accident. That I was here by design, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
But like most people I became encultured and lost a sense of identity somewhere along the way. I went to school and learned to conform to the world’s standards and values. I learned to follow the herd instead of the Shepherd. And I no longer remembered who I was.
The world was too much with me. I was like Simba here in this scene from The Lion King.
John Sanford writes in his work The Kingdom Within, “By instinct, man is a group animal. For hundreds of thousands of years he has existed through the group, and the individual has found his identity and meaning by virtue of his inclusion in the tribe, clan, or nation.
“But the Kingdom of God calls us to go beyond this ancient herd instinct and to establish an individual consciousness of oneself and of God. Being a disciple means following the call in the individual way, and inevitably this will mean the separating out of oneself from the collective psychology of the group.”
One more thing I learned. To enter this kingdom, I must become like that child I once was.
Children don’t worry about tomorrow, nor do they dwell in the past. They pluck everything they can grab now.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
They seize the day. Every moment holds new promise, new hope. They intuit this.
So do I now. No longer do I make New Year’s resolutions.
His grace is sufficient each new day.
His mercies are new every morning.
But I still celebrate my birthday on the first day of the New Year.
Happy New Year!