Marking the start of a New Year is a rather strange custom. Technically there is no difference between 31 December and 1 January. They are just days like any other. Yet many human cultures celebrate some kind of New Year—probably because we instinctively know we need moments to pause, take stock, and prepare for new seasons.

When my parents worked in retail, we kids were sometimes recruited to help with stocktaking. It was a boring job and I didn’t understand why it was necessary. It was only years later that I realised how important it was to review the status of the business, check stocks and records, and prepare for the coming season. 

AN EXPANDED EXAMEN

One very helpful practice for spiritual stocktaking is the Ignatian Examen, where we review the day past and prepare for the day ahead. A New Year offers an opportunity for an expanded Examen to include the whole year past and to come. This year we also begin a new decade, and so brave souls may expand the practice even further.

There is no need for blame or judgement. We simply seek to be mindful of what was life-giving and what was not, and then to be intentional about nurturing what brings life and minimising what does not.

AN EXAMEN FOR THE YEAR PAST AND THE YEAR TO COME

We may find these questions helpful for an expanded Examen practice:

  • What past moments have been filled with love, joy, and healing? How can we create similar moments in the coming year?
  • What moments have been filled with conflict, rejection, and brokenness? How can we minimise those moments in the year ahead?
  • What stories have shaped us and what habits have developed from them?
  • What parts of our story do we want to carry into the new year and what would we want to change?

BEING INTENTIONAL ABOUT OUR SPIRITUALITY

For spirituality to be authentic and transforming it is essential that it leads us into practical actions of love and justice. For example, we could:

  • Give of our time, expertise, or finances to a cause we care about;
  • Join an online activist group like Avaaz: joining global petitions and protests;
  • Care for our planet through recycling and sustainable living;
  • Bring kindness into our world by befriending lonely or marginalised people, or by smiling at and greeting strangers;
  • Work to be more more self-aware about our judgements of others, and choose to put the best construction on everything.

You may find it most helpful to commit to just one or two specific actions for the year.

Finally, it is helpful to have some way to remember our commitment through the year. The original Methodists began every year with a prayer called the Covenant Prayer. Here is an adaptation that you are welcome to adopt.

What other ideas do you have for living a more intentional and practical spirituality in 2020? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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