The following reflection appears courtesy of the School of Theology and Ministry and its Monthly Theme series. Dan Kelley-Petersen works in the School of Theology and Ministry, serving as an academic specialist for the Couples and Family Therapy Program.
I think we'd all agree, on some level, that the start of a new year is an opportunity to recognize some kind of "fresh start" in our lives. I know I have put on a few extra pounds of cheer this holiday season, but I know I feel more alive when I take care of my body, my heart and my mind. I also recognize that I am more successful when I work with others toward a goal. With all of that in mind, and since the holiday break, my partner and I have been successfully completing both an abs and triceps exercise challenge, in hopes of starting the new year off working toward a goal we both know will make us feel healthier and cared for.
Having just spent time in spiritual practice and contemplation throughout the Advent season in December, I personally feel renewed entering 2016. I am feeling mindful of hope and what this new year could look like. Here now in January, I am focusing on discerning what renews me, and to think, feel, act and take better care of myself. I do this in a number of ways both individually and with my faith community. One of the most impactful for me is spending time with others-talking, reflecting and praying about self and impact I have on my relationships with others in my day. Doing that work united with others makes a huge difference!
The start of any new year is, in some ways, a call to forgiveness and mercy. I think of forgiveness as letting go of past hurts… recalling places where we were called to act but didn't...and making sure that negative talk of self and others isn't getting in the way of forgiving ourselves and others. Mercy to me is an opportunity to open up our hearts toward the fullness of love…welcoming back the people in our lives…and taking small steps that create momentous action accounts for the mercy we can offer. These acts and orientations toward forgiveness and mercy aren't just for me, on an individual level, but for all of us together as a wider human community.
Interestingly enough, the year 2016 is being designated as none other than "A Year of Mercy" in the Roman Catholic tradition (Learn more about it, here!). Francis has talked about these very same themes being central to this "Jubilee Year:" forgiveness and mercy. The timing of these reflections couldn't be more perfect, with so much that is going on in our world today, with all of its unresolved conflict. There is something quite powerful about being together as a larger, wider community in reflection-like the reflection of the "Year of Mercy." Somehow, in joining together, our hearts and minds uniting in hope and faith creates a healthier, whole, and vibrant world because we know from our own experiences that we struggle with forgiveness and mercy. Being together touches our soul and offers us a way to be whole, or united with one another again.
When I think about this idea of what it means to "Unite," my mind immediately goes to my experience in the founding cohort of what's known as the "Contemplative Leaders in Action" program. This special two-year-long program is offered through the "Magis" office at Seattle University (an office dedicated to providing programing and community-building events and activities for Jesuit-educated alumni nationwide). The mission of "Contemplative Leaders in Action" is to "develop a cohort of leaders who can bring the dynamics of faith and justice to lead their families, co-workers and communities." While being a part of the program, I was able to dive deeper into the values and practices that mark Ignatian spirituality-building on them to form genuine human community and shared service opportunities together. That lived experience has forever marked and enhanced my own perspective on what it means to "unite" together.
This January theme of "Unite" is an opportunity for me (and all of us!) to continue to refine and reflect on the resolutions I want to keep for myself, but also, in this Year of Mercy, a time to re-connect with the larger community in ways in which I haven't done before. When we are together, we can accomplish so much more than we could have ever accomplished alone-living happy, healthy and inter-connected lives.
Carl Sagan has had a profound impact on my spiritual development over the past year. I want to share a few quotes with you and how I see them relating to the theme of "Unite." Sagan said, "The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself." I can't think of a better way to describe the reason for us to unite with one another. In knowing each other, we grow in knowing ourselves and what is all around us. He goes on to say, "Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works." This is such a simple way of setting us on the very challenging path of knowing ourselves and understanding others. Finally, Sagan leaves me with this: "We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers." This is how I continue to find myself and unite with others striving to achieve a significant and lasting place to call home.
As we set resolutions and greet each other with, "Happy New Year," let us also remember that without one another, we cannot know the depths of ourselves nor can we enact merciful change and transformational forgiveness that can keep us together.